News / Asia

    North Korea Makes First Mention of South's New President

    South Korea's President Park Geun-hye speaks to the nation at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, March 4, 2013 file photo.
    South Korea's President Park Geun-hye speaks to the nation at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, March 4, 2013 file photo.
    North Korea has made its first reference to South Korea's new president, amid escalated tension on the peninsula. Meanwhile, South Korea says the military hotline to the North is still operational, but another communications link remains severed for a third day.

    The latest combative vow of retaliation against South Korea and the United States is being attributed to North Korea's armed forces ministry.

    A spokesman's statement, read by an announcer during Wednesday radio broadcasts, refers to the new administration of President Park Geun-hye in Seoul as idiots who cannot judge reality and are continuing with the same confrontational polices of her predecessor.

    The announcer says "the frenzy being kicked up by the South Korean warmongers is no way irrelevant, with the venomous swish of skirt made by the owner of the presidential office."

    President Park was inaugurated February 25.  In official statements and media commentary, North Korea has not mentioned her until now.

    North Korea frequently vilified her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, as "the rat-like leader of a pack of traitors."

    Professor Yang Moo-jin at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul says Pyongyang seems to have taken care, at this point, not to mention President Park by name.

    Yang says the criticism, while elevating the threat level, is indirect to leave an opportunity for direct communication with the South.  He says, if it directly criticizes the South Korean president, any chance of improving inter-Korean relations would be difficult.

    North Korea's Leader Visits Coastal Detachment

    • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Wolnae Islet Defence Detachment in the western sector of the front line, which is near Baengnyeong Island of South Korea, March 11, 2013. (KCNA)
    • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a long-range artillery sub-unit of the Korean People's Army Unit 641, March 11, 2013. (KCNA)
    • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un holds a guitar during his visit to a military unit on the Wolnae Islet Defence Detachment in the western sector of the front line, which is near Baengnyeong Island, South Korea, March 11, 2013. (KCNA)
    • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves while in a boat during his visit to the Wolnae Islet Defence Detachment in the western sector of the front line, which is near Baengnyeong Island of South Korea March 11, 2013. (KCNA)


    North Korea says it unilaterally abrogated the 1953 Armistice agreement, effective Monday.

    South Korea's government says the military hotline between the two sides is still operational, but the Red Cross communications link across the demilitarized zone at the Panmunjom truce village has been severed since Monday.

    The Kaesong Industrial Complex

    Operations are also continuing normally at the only Korean joint venture: the Kaesong Industrial Complex, just north of the DMZ.

    Fifty-three thousand North Korea laborers are employed there by more than 100 South Korean companies. The complex annually generates an estimated $1 billion in exports to the South from the impoverished and isolated North.

    Senior economic researcher Cho Bong-hyun at the Industrial Bank of Korea says, if the 700 managers from the South who go there daily are blocked from entering, that would be an ominous signal from the North.

    Cho says anxiety is high among the South Korean company owners and some of them have started to leave, while workers are worried about the complex shutting down. But, he says, all are hoping inter-Korean relations will stabilize for the proper operation of the unique venture.

    South conducts military exercises

    Just to the south of the DMZ, South Korean marines conducted a drill Wednesday with about 30 tanks. Officials term it a routine exercise and say it was separate from two large U.S.-South Korean joint drills underway.

    Military officials in the South say the North's forces may also have commenced their own large-scale exercise, but there has been no confirmation of that.

    A cease-fire has been in force on the peninsula since the 1953 truce agreement, but no peace treaty has been signed. The two Koreas have no diplomatic relations, meaning two of the world's largest armies continue to face each other with both sides claiming sovereignty of the entire peninsula.

    South Korea and U.S. Hold Military Drill

    • South Korean Army soldiers patrol along a barbed-wire fence near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, March 11, 2013.
    • South Korean Army soldiers work on their K-9 self-propelled artillery vehicles during an exercise near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, March 11, 2013.
    • South Korean Army soldiers patrol along a barbed-wire fence near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, March 11, 2013.
    • South Korean protesters shout slogans during a rally denouncing the annual joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States, near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, March 11, 2013.
    • A South Korean college student weeps as she reads statements during a press conference denouncing the annual joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States, near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, March 10, 2013.

    Steve Herman

    Steve Herman is VOA's Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, based at the State Department.

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