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N. Korea Threatens to Withdraw from Armistice - 2003-02-18

Amid a growing nuclear crisis, North Korea is threatening to withdraw from the armistice that ended the Korean War fifty years ago. The North is accusing the United States of threatening the communist state.

Tensions are rising on the Korean Peninsula with a statement from Pyongyang Tuesday threatening to withdraw from the armistice that to ended its war with South Korea in 1953.

The statement on state-run news media accuses Washington of building up its military in the region in violation of the pact and of plotting a naval blockade.

To support its assertion, North Korea notes the United States boarded a North Korean vessel loaded with missiles bound for Yemen back in December. Pyongyang calls the move almost an "open declaration of war."

The meaning of North Korea's threat is unclear. South Korean political analysts say it could mean the North will resume the war, but others consider it saber rattling to push the United States into talks on the dispute over Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

South Korean defense officials say there has been no unusual activity by North Korean troops along the border that divides the two nations. It is one of the world's most heavily armed areas, with about 700,000 soldiers deployed on the North Korean side and a few hundred-thousand troops on the South Korean side.

The broadcast comes one day after the United States and South Korea said they would hold military maneuvers next month. Some North Korean watchers think the annual exercises may anger Pyongyang, which has expressed outrage over similar exercises in the past.

Charles Morrison is the president, of the East-West Center, a think-tank that studies Asia-Pacific security issues, in Honolulu, Hawaii. "They'll interpret anything right now as being provocative," he says. "Any exercise at this time…they will use whatever excuse is available to argue, as they have been arguing that they're the country that's threatened."

North Korea's official media have carried angry rhetoric against the United States almost daily since a nuclear dispute flared up in October. That is when Washington said Pyongyang admitted it had a secret nuclear weapons program, violating international non-proliferation pacts.

The North has since withdrawn from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and says it has restarted nuclear facilities that are capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.

The United Nations Security Council will soon debate North Korea's nuclear programs and could impose sanctions - which Pyongyang says would be tantamount to a declaration of war.

Despite North Korea's threat Tuesday, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung says he thinks the danger of war on the Korean Peninsula is slight, or even non-existent. He urged Washington and the North to hold talks, saying that is "the only way to solve this problem."

Both sides have said they are willing to talk, but no meeting has been arranged. The Bush administration has rejected Pyongyang's demand for a bilateral non-aggression pact, saying it will not give in to nuclear threats or blackmail.