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North Korea Provocations

n-korea-picAfter weeks of belligerent threats and provocative gestures from Pyongyang, the situation on the Korean Peninsula is fragile.

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Hong Kong (CNN) — The North Korean army has declared invalid the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953, the official newspaper of the country’s ruling Workers’ Party said Monday.

Since last week, North Korea had been threatening to scrap the armistice after the U.N. Security Council passed tougher sanctions against it in response to its February 12 nuclear test.

n-korea-picOn Monday, the Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported that the Supreme Command of North Korea’s army had done so.

“The U.S. has reduced the armistice agreement to a dead paper,” the newspaper said.

North Korea also cut off direct phone links with South Korea at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

The phone line was the emergency link for quick, two-way communication between the two sides.

The armistice agreement, signed in 1953, ended the three-year war between North and South Korea in a truce.

Since the two sides remain technically at war, it remains to be seen whether the invalidation means that either side can resume hostilities.

The Rodong Sinmun reported the Supreme Command saying that it can now make a “strike of justice at any target anytime, not bound to the armistice agreement and achieve the national reunification, the cherished desire of the Korean nation.”

However, the North has nullified the agreement on several occasions in the past.

A look back at the history of the armistice.

What is the armistice agreement?

It is the agreement that ended the war between North and South Korea. It is a truce, rather than a peace treaty.

Has the North ended the armistice before?

Yes. In 2003, Pyonyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) announced that it may have “no option” but to stop honoring the armistice because of the United State’s “persistent war moves.”

In 2009, North Korea said its military would no longer be bound by the agreement because South Korea was joining a U.S.-led anti-proliferation plan.

Part of the reason for the latest move are the joint exercises between the United States and South Korea.

A bigger reason is tougher sanctions passed in the U.N. Security Council against North Korea in response to its nuclear test on February 12.

Pyongyang carried out its third nuclear test, despite international condemnation.

What caused the division of Korea?

For most of the first half of the 20th century, Japan controlled the Korean peninsula as its colony.

By the end of the World War II as Japan neared defeat, the allies agreed to an independent Korea.

The United States and Soviet Union divided postwar occupation of Korea along the 38th parallel and the two sides were ideologically opposite.

Why did war break out?

On June 25, 1950, a surprise attack by North Korean soldiers who crossed the 38th parallel easily overwhelmed South Korean forces.

The United States leap t to the defense of the South. As South Korean, U.S. and U.N. forces fought back and gained ground into North Korea, Chinese forces joined the war on the North’s side later that year.

To this day, China remains a crucial ally of North Korea and the U.S. of South Korea.

What toll did the war take?

The toll of the war included about 1.2 million deaths in South Korea, 1 million deaths in North Korea, 36,500 deaths for U.S. troops and 600,000 deaths for Chinese soldiers.

What are the lasting effects of the war?

The brutal war separated thousands of families, and created the world’s most heavily fortified border. It also drew the alliances that exist today.

When was the armistice signed?

The armistice was signed in July 1953.

What were its terms?

The terms of the armistice included the creation of the Demilitarized Zone, a heavily fortified 155-mile long (250 kilometers) 2.5-mile wide line separating the two countries.

How have relations between the North and South been since then?

In the last 60 years, diplomacy between North and South has zigzagged from conciliatory to bellicose.

During more friendly times, the two countries arranged emotional family reunions for those separated by the war in 2000, their leaders shook hands in a 2007 Pyongyang summit and ran freight trains across the border.

But periods of rapprochement have been counterpointed by flareups.

More recently, the North shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong leaving two marines and two civilians dead.

Pyongyang claimed Seoul provoked the 2010 attack by holding a military drill off their shared coast in the Yellow Sea.

That same year, North Korea was also accused of sinking a South Korean warship, killing more than 40 sailors.

Without an armistice, what can happen?

The two sides can resume hostilities if they so choose.

What are the risks of a military clash?

A military clash could risk drawing in the United States, which has about 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea as part of the security alliance between the two countries.

(CNN) — The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday for tougher sanctions against North Korea.

China, North Korea’s key ally, could have vetoed the resolution — but instead agreed to it.

Leading up to the vote, Pyongyang unleashed an even harsher bout of fiery rhetoric than usual, threatening its enemies with the possibility of a “preemptive nuclear attack.”

Despite the strong language, analysts say North Korea is still years away from having the technology necessary to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile and aim it accurately at a target.

The bellicose statement, carried by the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency, came during a week of high tension on the Korean Peninsula as military drills take place on either side of the heavily armed border that divides the two Koreas.

On Tuesday, North Korea said it planned to scrap the armistice that stopped the Korean War in 1953 and warned it could carry out strikes against the United States and South Korea.

In a new statement Thursday, a spokesman for the North Korean foreign ministry suggested the United States “is set to light a fuse for a nuclear war.”

As a result, North Korea “will exercise the right to a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors and to defend the supreme interests of the country,” the statement said.

Analysts say North Korea is unlikely to seek a direct military conflict with the United States, preferring instead to try to gain traction through threats and the build up of its military deterrent.

South Korea had responded to Pyongyang’s earlier saber-rattling with an unusually tough statement Wednesday, warning it would retaliate “strongly and sternly” against North’s military command and forces if the “lives and safety of South Koreans” came under threat.

The menacing language from North Korea is consistent with the array of bellicose statements it has made previously — it has declared the cease-fire to be irrelevant before.

But it comes amid increased concern over Pyongyang’s dogged efforts to advance its nuclear and missile technology after a recent long-range rocket launch and underground atomic blast.

Doubts on effect of sanctions

The sanctions in the new resolution signal the latest attempt by the United States and its allies to hinder North Korea’s weapons programs and pressure its young leader, Kim Jong Un, into taking a less confrontational approach.

But doubts remain over what difference the new measures will make.

Sanctions imposed after previous nuclear tests and rocket launches have failed to deter the North from its pursuit of a strong military deterrent that underpins its approach to foreign relations.

North Korea casts U.N. sanctions as part of an aggressive, U.S.-led conspiracy against it.

New measures

The goal of the new sanctions is to stymie the activities of North Korean banks and cash couriers who might be funneling money to the secretive regime’s nuclear and missile programs.

The U.N. resolution also outlines measures to step up scrutiny of suspicious sea shipments and air cargo. And it expands restrictions to encompass several institutions and senior officials in the North’s weapons industry, as well as a range of materials and technology known to be used in uranium enrichment.

China and and the United States, two of the permanent member of the Security Council, negotiated for weeks on the wording.

‘Paying the price for … a nuclear test’

Beijing’s willingness to support additional sanctions was seen as an indication of its frustration with Pyongyang’s decision to go ahead with the nuclear test last month despite Chinese urging not to do so.

“Kim Jong Un is now paying the price for going ahead with a nuclear test despite Chinese warnings not to create trouble during the political transition that has been under way in Beijing the past year,” Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme at the UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said this week.

“The real question, though, is the degree to which China will be willing to implement the U.N. sanctions and to impose punishment of its own,” Fitzpatrick added, highlighting future levels of Chinese grain sales to North Korea as a possible indicator of Beijing’s commitment to putting meaningful pressure on Pyongyang.

Analysts say Beijing wants to maintain the North as a buffer between its border and South Korea, a U.S. ally.

Simmering tensions

North Korea said the underground nuclear blast it conducted on February 12 was more powerful than its two previous detonations and used a smaller, lighter device, suggesting advances in its weapons program.

It was the first nuclear test the isolated state has carried out since Kim inherited power in December 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, who made building up North Korea’s military strength the focus of his 17-year rule.

The test followed the North’s long-range rocket launch in December that succeeded in putting an object in orbit. Pyongyang insisted the launch had peaceful aims, but it was widely viewed as a test of ballistic missile technology.

The start this week of two months of joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, known as Foal Eagle, has added to the simmering tensions.

North Korea has called the annual training exercises “an open declaration of a war,” but South Korea says it notified Pyongyang that the drills “are defensive in nature.”

Another joint exercise, Key Resolve, is scheduled to begin Monday, the day on which North Korea says its military will declare the 1953 armistice invalid.

On Thursday, came news that North Korea was conducting drills throughout its territory, with the South Korean defense ministry describing them as “unusually grand-scaled.”

“We are tightening guard and stepping up readiness in case any unexpected or planned provocation happen from North Korea,” said Kwon Ki Hyeon of the South Korean defense ministry.

North and South Korea have technically been at war for decades. The 1950-53 civil war ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

China supported the North with materiel and troops in the Korean War. The United States backed the South in the conflict, with soldiers from the two countries fighting side by side. About 28,500 U.S. soldiers are currently stationed in South Korea.

North Korea threatened Tuesday to nullify the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953, citing U.S.-led international moves to impose new sanctions against it over its recent nuclear test, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

The North’s military said it will also cut off direct phone links with South Korea at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom, Yonhap said, citing North Korea’s news outlet.

North and South Korea have technically been at war for decades. The 1950-53 civil war ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

n-koreaThere has been major concern in recent years among world powers over North Korea’s nuclear aspirations.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to meet Tuesday to consider a proposed resolution to authorize more sanctions against North Korea in response to the secretive regime’s controversial nuclear test last month.

The United States and China, a key North Korean ally, have reached a tentative deal on the wording of the proposed resolution, a senior Obama administration official told CNN Tuesday.

The two nations have been negotiating for weeks on the question.

As a permanent member of the Security Council with veto power, China can strongly influence the body’s decisions and has previously resisted strong sanctions on the Kim regime, which it props up economically.

The two communist countries have been close allies since China supported the North with materiel and troops in the Korean War. The United States backed the South in the conflict, fighting side by side with its troops.

Analysts say Beijing wants to maintain the North as a buffer between its border and South Korea, a U.S. ally.

Beijing’s government on Tuesday said it strives for a “nuclear free peninsula.” It repeated its support for the U.N. Security Council’s condemnation of North Korea’s nuclear tests but also called for a muted response to it.

Military exercises

Pyongyang said the underground nuclear blast it conducted on February 12 was more powerful than its two previous detonations and used a smaller, lighter device, suggesting advances in its weapons program.

It was the first nuclear test the isolated state has carried out since its young leader, Kim Jong Un, inherited power in December 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, who made building up North Korea’s military strength the focus of his 17-year rule.

Like the regime’s previous tests in 2006 and 2009, the move prompted widespread international condemnation, as well as a promise of tough action at the United Nations.

North Korea’s government regularly rails against sanctions imposed on it.

The staging this week of joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, known as Foal Eagle, has added to the simmering tensions, the official Korean Central News Agency reported Monday.

It described the training exercises as “an open declaration of a war” in the face of repeated warnings from the North that they should not be held.

The exercises have “touched off the pent-up resentment of the service personnel and people of (North Korea) and compelled them to harden their pledge to take thousand-fold retaliation against the enemies,” the news agency said.

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