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US, South Korea Military Raise Defense Alert Level After North's Threats



South Korea and the United States have raised their defense alert levels on the Korean peninsula, a day after the North said it was willing to discard the 56-year-old armistice that paused the Korean War. Analysts expect more tension in the days ahead.

South Korea and the United States boosted defense alert conditions to the second highest in a five-level structure, Thursday.

Won Tae-jae, a spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry, says the two militaries are devoting more personnel to intelligence gathering and analysis, including aviation and reconnaissance. He says South Korea and the United States will cooperate in keeping a watch over North Korea's movements.

Nuclear tests sparked tensions

This week has marked a dramatic, day-by-day escalation in security tensions on the divided peninsula. On Monday, North Korea conducted its second nuclear test, apparently with more explosive power than its 2006 test. On Tuesday, South Korea confirmed its full participation in a U.S.-led campaign to disrupt the transport of nuclear and other weapons. Pyongyang responded Wednesday by describing the South's decision as a "declaration of war," and warned it would not be bound to the 1953 Korean War Armistice if the United States or South Korea approached any of its ships.

The U.S.-led United Nations Command issued a statement Thursday saying the armistice "has served as the legal basis for the ceasefire in Korea for over 55 years", and that it "remains in force and is binding on all signatories, including North Korea."

Keeping a close eye

An especially close eye is being kept on waters west of the Korean peninsula, where North Korea warned Tuesday it would be unable to guarantee the safety of U.S. and South Korean vessels. Pyongyang has never accepted the United Nations-drawn maritime border in that region, and the two Koreas have fought two deadly naval skirmishes there in the past ten years.

South Korea is cooperating closely with the United States, China and Russia and Japan in crafting a new United Nations Security Council resolution including new economic sanctions against North Korea.

Analyst predicts more tension

Tanaka Hitoshi, a former Japanese government official, is a senior fellow at the Japan Center for International Exchange. He says more tension lies ahead.

"North Korea is pursuing some kind of escalation policy and we are bound to respond to it," he said. "And North Korea will undoubtedly react to it... So, there is going to be a crisis."

In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso told lawmakers Thursday his government is urging the United States to return North Korea to a State Department list of nations accused of sponsoring terrorism. Washington took the North off that list as part of multinational diplomacy to end its nuclear weapons. North Korea withdrew from the talks earlier this month.
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