— North Korea says it has put its rocket units on the highest combat readiness level. The announcement includes fresh threats to strike U.S. military bases and South Korea.
The official North Korean news agency and state radio Tuesday afternoon carried the latest announcement from the army's supreme command that all field artillery units, including those armed with strategic rockets and long-range artillery, are now at the top level of "combat-ready posture."
The announcer reading the military's statement on the central broadcasting station in Pyongyang declared the units "will target all enemy objects in U.S. offensive bases on its mainland, Hawaii and Guam."
The targets, according to the broadcast, also include South Korea, with the warning that at first shot "everything will be blown away and turned to ash."
South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense says this is the first time Pyongyang's military has ever publicly referred to an “il-ho” – or number one – combat readiness alert.
It is the latest in an escalating round of bellicose rhetoric from the North, which has included a threat to conduct a preemptive nuclear strike on the United States.
The command issued to the rocket units comes days after the U.S. air force flew B-52 sorties over the peninsula as part of an annual joint drill with South Korean forces. And it comes just hours after South Korean President Park Geun-hye said it is time for North Korea to change for its own sake.
The president, speaking at the national cemetery in Daejeon, says "the only way North Korea will survive is if it voluntarily lays down its nuclear weapons, missiles, provocations and threats, and transforms into a responsible member of the international community."
The speech was part of a memorial marking the March 26, 2010 sinking of a South Korean coastal warship that killed 46 sailors.
South Korea and others who joined a multinational investigation into the explosion on the Cheonan
in the Yellow Sea concluded the ship was hit by a North Korean torpedo. Pyongyang has denied carrying out the attack.
Related video report by Jeff Custer
In a letter to soldiers marking the anniversary of the Cheonan's
sinking, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin requested the military stay on high alert so it can immediately retaliate should there be another North Korean attack.
As the solemn observance was taking place in the South, military maneuvers were apparently underway in the North. But there has been no indication any attack is imminent.
Wee Yong-sub is a spokesman for South Korea's Ministry of National Defense.
Wee says there appears to be a state-level military drill underway with amphibious landings and counter-landing operations conducted by North Korea's navy and army.
A three-year war fought by the two Koreas in the early 1950's ended in a stalemate. A peace treaty was never signed.
Two weeks ago, Pyongyang declared the 1953 war truce invalid. The U.S.-led U.N. command says the document remains in effect and that no one party to the armistice can abrogate it.
Soldiers of the Korean People's Army take part in the landing and anti-landing drills of KPA Large Combined Units 324 and 287 and KPA Navy Combined Unit 597 in the east coastal area in North Korea, March 25, 2013.
A North Korean soldier attends military training in an undisclosed location in this picture released by the North's official KCNA news agency, March 19, 2013.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un talks with generals as soldiers of the Korean People's Army take part in landing and anti-landing drills in eastern North Korea, March 25, 2013.
The North Korean shore as seen from South Korean island of Yeongpyeong.
North Korean soldiers attend military training in an undisclosed location in this picture released by the North's official KCNA news agency, March 19, 2013.
North Korea's artillery sub-units, whose mission is to strike Daeyeonpyeong island and Baengnyeong island of South Korea, conduct a live shell firing drill to examine war fighting capabilities in the western sector of the front line, March 14, 2013.
The air force and air defense artillery units of of the Korean People's Army conducts a drill of drone planes assaulting targets in a picture released by the North's official KCNA news agency, March 20, 2013.
Members of the United Nations Security Council vote to tighten sanctions on North Korea at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, March 7, 2013.
April 8, 2012: A soldier stands guard in front of the Unha-3 rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, northwest of Pyongyang, North Korea.
North Koreans celebrate the successful launch of the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket at Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang December 14, 2012. The sign reads: "Let's glorify dignity and honor of great people of Kim Il Sung and of Korea of Kim Jong Il in the world
Comparison of the UNHA-2 and UNHA-3 rocket flight paths