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Sunday, March 4, 2012

N Korea Leader Orders Military on High Alert

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered troops along the heavily armed border with rival South Korea to be on high alert during a visit to the Demilitarized Zone, state media reported Sunday.

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On Sunday, tens of thousands of North Koreans rallied in Pyongyang, vowing to topple South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who ended a no-strings-attached aid policy to the North when he took power in 2008, instead linking assistance to nuclear disarmament.

In rhetoric typical of the North, military chief Ri Yong Ho warned in a speech at Pyongyang's main Kim Il Sung Square that the North Korean army would "sweep out" the South Korean traitors using their guns, according to footage from North Korea's state TV.

A crowd of soldiers and citizens later paraded through the plaza, pumping their fists and chanting, "Let's kill Lee Myung-bak by tearing him to pieces."

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On Saturday, a spokesman for North Korea's National Defense Commission told a news conference that the United States must halt the joint military drills if it is serious about peace on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea calls the U.S.-South Korean war games a threat to peace at a time when U.S. and North Korean officials are holding talks aimed at improving relations.

The U.S. and North Korea announced last week that Washington had agreed to provide 240,000 metric tons of food aid in exchange for a freeze of North Korea's nuclear activities. A U.S. envoy is scheduled to meet with North Korean officials in Beijing on Wednesday to discuss the distribution of food.

The deal is seen as a first step toward resuming six-nation nuclear disarmament-for-aid talks suspended in 2009, and a tentative move toward improving the tense relationship between the wartime foes. The six-nation talks involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.

"Talks and military exercises are contradictory," Maj. Gen. Kwak Chol Hui, deputy director of the National Defense Commission's Policy Department, told the news conference Saturday in response to a question from The Associated Press.

North Korea considers the drills an additional affront because they are being staged during the semiofficial 100-day mourning period following Kim Jong Il's Dec. 17 death.

Across Pyongyang, vans mounted with speakers drove through the streets Saturday broadcasting the statement denouncing South Korea. State media reported that 1.7 million young North Koreans signed up for military service in a 24-hour period and that hundreds of thousands signed petitions calling for revenge. The figures could not be confirmed independently.
Whatever the exact reason for placing its military on high alert--whether to bolster Kim Jung Un's status with the military, pressure the South into abandoning war games, etc., it also serves another purpose. Timed as it is before the arrival of food shipments, it allows the North Korean regime to claim that it scared the United States and other countries into giving it food rather than face its "military might."

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