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N.Korea threatens to cut off dialogue with South
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea threatened to suspend dialogue with the South over comments made by a South Korean military official and said it was ready to attack its wealthy neighbor, the North's state media said at the weekend.
Over the past several days, the North has lashed out at the new conservative government in Seoul and its ally the United States by test-firing missiles, expelling South Korean officials at a joint factory park in the North and threatening to slow down a nuclear disarmament deal.
"The Korean People's Army (KPA) will counter any slightest move of the south side for 'pre-emptive attack' with more rapid and more powerful pre-emptive attack of its own mode," the North's KCNA news agency quoted one of its military officials as saying.
North Korea, one of the world's most militarized states, has made similar statements for years threatening pre-emptive attacks, but those have almost always been in response to joint South Korean-U.S. military drills.
The new chairman of the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff last week said the South would hit North Korea's nuclear weapon base to disable it if the North attacks but had no plans for a pre-emptive strike, according to the Defence Ministry.
In the dispatch released late on Saturday, the North's military official demanded an apology for those comments.
"If the south side does not retract the outbursts calling for 'pre-emptive attack' nor clarify its stand to apologize for them, the KPA will interpret this as the stand of the south side's authorities to suspend all inter-Korean dialogues and contacts."
The South's Defence Ministry said it would decide whether to respond in the next few days to a North Korean threat also made in the dispatch to cut back on inter-Korean military talks.
The two Koreas stepped up bilateral contacts after the first summit of their leaders in 2000, which has led to a decrease in tensions on the heavily armed peninsula and the South helping to keep the decrepit economy of it pauper neighbor afloat with massive aid.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's government, in office for a month, has told the touchy North that if it wants to keep receiving aid it should clean up its human rights, abide by an international nuclear deal and start returning the more than 1,000 South Koreans it kidnapped or has held since the 1950-53 Korean War.
Lee's left-of-centre predecessors in the presidential Blue House for the past 10 years have sent billions of dollars in aid to the North while asking for little in return, seeing it as the price to pay for stability.
North Korea, which has a habit of test-launching missiles as a way to ratchet up political tensions, shot off ship-to-ship missiles into the Yellow Sea on Friday.
It also said if South Korean ships continued to patrol in disputed Yellow Sea waters, there could be a battle.
The commander of the some 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea that support the South's military of about 670,000 said on Friday last week the two could easily defeat the North's antiquated army of 1.2 million.
"If North Korea should attack ... we will defeat them quickly and decisively and end the fight on our terms," General B. B. Bell said before the reported missile launch.
(Additional reporting by Lee Jin-joo; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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