South Korea marked the 101st birthday anniversary of Kim Il-sung — the founder of North Korea and the communist dynasty that rules it — by calling Monday on his grandson, dictator Kim Jong-un, to free his people.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se broke Seoul's traditional silence on North Korea's internal affairs to make the call at a global conference of journalists, according to the independent Yonhap news agency.
"We must press upon North Korea to realize that without change, there is no hope for economic development; without change, the mere survival of the regime may be in question," Mr. Yun said.
In North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, people celebrated the birth of their nation's founder with dancing in plazas, apparently unaware of regional tensions riled by their country's government.
The U.S., South Korea and Japan have been bracing for days for a medium-range missile launch by North Korea, which has threatened attacks in retaliation for new U.N. sanctions against its illegal nuclear test in February and ongoing U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises.
"It is time to break the vicious cycle of a North Korean provocation, followed by fragile compromise, followed by yet another provocation," Mr. Yun said Monday.
He hinted that if reform is not voluntarily forthcoming from Pyongyang's leaders, the international community would have to consider imposing it.
"The best way ... is for North Korea to change itself. If not, the international community must induce change through strong deterrence and stronger persuasion," the foreign minister said, adding that the North's nuclear and missile programs "present a significant challenge to the international community."
Citing historical events, from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War to the recent reform movement in Myanmar, Mr. Yun argued that such events "point in one direction — the inevitable triumph of freedom over oppression." He called on North Korea to "make the right choice to become a responsible member of the international community."
Also Monday, Yonhap reported that North Korea's young leader has not been seen in public over the past two weeks, setting off speculation that he might be trying to walk back from the fiery tone of recent statements.
Under Mr. Kim, North Korea has claimed over the past few weeks to have scrapped the cease-fire that stopped the fighting in the Korean War, cut telephone hotlines to the South and warned foreign diplomats that their safety could be at risk if they remain in the capital, Pyongyang. The North also has warned foreigners to leave South Korea to avoid "thermonuclear war."
In preparation for North Korea's missile launch, Japan has set up Patriot missile defense systems at three sites near Tokyo, and South Korea has deployed two radar-equipped Aegis destroyers — which can detect and track a missile launch — on each side of the peninsula.
The United States has responded by moving additional missile interceptors to Fort Greely in Alaska, adding another radar system to Japan and deploying a sea-based radar system off the coast of North Korea. In a show of force, Washington also sent two B-2 stealth bombers from a base in Missouri to participate in ongoing U.S.-South Korean military exercises and dispatched F-22 stealth fighter jets to the war games.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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