Several-hundred South Koreans remain stranded in North Korea after the North's decision to cut a military hotline and seal its border to the South. As the United States and South Korea begin annual joint military drills, Pyongyang is warning of war if there is an attempt to shoot down a rocket it is believed preparing for launch.
North Korea cut its final military hotline with South Korea, ending the usual communication system for arranging limited crossings of the tense inter-Korean border.
Several-hundred South Koreans who manage a joint industrial park in North Korea are stranded there, for now. South Korean Unification Ministry Spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun says the government is taking measures to ensure their safety, which he says is a top priority.
He says the South Korean government has been patient with North Korea's recent actions, and demands it stop its tension-raising behavior.
North Korea says it cut communications in response to what it calls "war exercises" underway between the United States and South Korea.
An announcer on North Korean state-run television says the joint drills are like a declaration of war, and pose a serious threat to the country.
The United States deploys about 28,000 troops in South Korea to deter the North from invading South Korea, as it did in 1950. Top U.S. and South Korean officers say the annual exercises are routine and defensive in nature.
North Korea lashes out against the drills every year, but this year tension is heightened by North Korea's recent announcement it plans to launch a "satellite" in the near future. The United States and Japan view that as a cover for a long-range missile test. They have not ruled out the possibility of shooting the North's rocket down.
Pyongyang warns of dire consequences.
In a separate announcement on official North Korean media, a military officer warns of retaliation against any attempt to intercept the rocket. He says such an attempt would mean war.
Newly appointed U.S. envoy to North Korea Stephen Bosworth said in Seoul a North Korean launch would be a clear violation of a U.N. resolution imposed in 2006. He says the United States wants dialogue with Pyongyang, but not at the expense of engagement with U.S. regional partners.
"We are basically committed to being willing to have dialogue with anyone. That does not mean we are going to be automatically in agreement, and it certainly does not mean in this case that our commitment to the six party process is any less," he said.
Bosworth says six-nation talks aimed at getting rid of North Korea's nuclear weapons will hopefully be reconvened "in the near future."