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Korean tensions rise amid live-fire exercises by the North

- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2013

Leaders of North and South Korea visited islands on their disputed maritime border Thursday, ratcheting up tensions on the divided peninsula.

North Korea's third-generation hereditary dictator, Kim Jong-un, oversaw live-fire artillery drills at the location from which his forces shelled a South Korean island in 2010, killing four and almost provoking a war.

"Shells intensively hit the imaginary targets of the enemy while the roar of the artillery pieces rocked heaven and earth," said the North's state-run Korea Central News Agency.

"A modern war is an artillery war," the agency quoted Mr. Kim as saying.

North Korea has over the past two weeks stepped up its bellicose rhetoric. On Monday it nullified the cease-fire agreement that halted the fighting in the Korean conflict 60 years ago, although the two sides remain in a state of war.

North Korea also threatened to restart the war, pre-emptively employing nuclear weapons, in response to joint South Korean-U.S. military exercises this week and U.N. sanctions imposed last week after the North's latest atomic weapon test in February.

The South has called the rhetoric a form of "psychological war" and has promised to respond forcefully to any North Korean provocations.

Earlier this week, South Korea's telecommunications commission raised the national cybersecurity threat level a notch. It warned of possible Internet attacks from the North and cautioned South Koreans to keep their anti-virus programs and other software up to date and report any computer irregularities.

On Thursday, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won visited the South's own frontline islands, urging troops to prepare for possible aggression from the North.

"As a strong buttress protecting the lives and property of the people, I ask for your full readiness ... to respond properly to any North Korean provocations," Mr. Chung said.

The island Mr. Chung visited, Yeonpyeong, was the target of the North Korean shelling in November 2010.

The prime minister asked locals, who have reportedly taken to sleeping fully clothed in case of another attack, to stay calm and trust the government to protect them.

Last week, Mr. Chung visited the visited the state-run Korea Internet and Security Agency, to highlight preparations against potential cyberattacks.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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