PYONGYANG, North Korea
North Korea’s military is threatening a “merciless sacred war” against South Korea just days after Pyongyang struck a nuclear disarmament-for-aid deal with the United States.
The statement by the Supreme Command of the Korean People’s Army contains common North Korean rhetoric but highlights the lingering tensions since violence in 2010 killed 50 South Koreans and raised fears of war. The statement was provided Friday to The Associated Press.
Wednesday’s U.S.-North Korea nuclear deal was seen as a breakthrough. But Washington has said that improved inter-Korean ties are crucial for success.
An unidentified North Korean military spokesman said Seoul was creating a “touch-and-go” situation because of joint military exercises going on now with the U.S.
U.S. troops tread carefully amid Korea tensions
Lt. Col. Edward Taylor stands behind a wall of sandbags overlooking the North Korean landscape and a bank of trees along the most fortified border in the world. The trees obstruct the view, he explains. They need to come down.
But this is the DMZ.
The last time anyone tried cutting trees here was 36 years ago, and it set off a melee with the North Koreans. Two U.S. soldiers were hacked to death with their own axes, touching off Operation Paul Bunyan, a full-scale mobilization of fighter jets, B-52 bombers and an aircraft carrier strike group that brought the two sides dangerously close to conflict.
The axes and clubs are still on display in a North Korean museum near the border as evidence of how the U.S. — Pyongyang claims — used the tree-cutting as a pretext to incite mayhem.
But to this day, the U.S. Army believes the 1976 Ax Murder Incident — North Korea calls it the Panmunjom Incident — was a premeditated attempt to boost the hard-line reputation of Kim Jong Il, who was then being groomed to eventually succeed his father as North Korea’s leader.
With Kim’s own son, Kim Jong Un, now cutting his teeth, Taylor knows his pruning plans could be all that is needed to set off America’s next big war. He commands the U.S. border battalion tasked with monitoring the Demilitarized Zone and providing security.
Though often overshadowed by more pressing conflicts elsewhere — Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now the stare-down with Iran — the potential for bloody hostilities on the Korean Peninsula is as real as ever. An agreement announced this week trading U.S. food aid for North Korean nuclear concessions opens a path to broader talks, but challenging obstacles remain.
If war does break out again, the 28,000 U.S. troops in Korea defending a 60-year-old truce arrangement will be right in the thick of it.
“We are in daily contact, sometimes within arm’s reach,” Taylor told The Associated Press back in his base camp, named after Capt. Arthur Bonifas, one of the two Americans killed in the 1976 clash. “If something happens, it could happen in minutes.”
Maybe, he says, the trees can wait.
PYONGYANG, North Korea