- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, March 21 (UPI) — North Korea Friday condemned South Korea's heightened security alert in the wake of the war on Iraq as "a rude challenge and unbearable hostility" against it.

North Korea also accused the South of reviving loudspeaker broadcasts of propaganda along the heavily fortified border, warning of "grave consequences" unless Seoul stops.

In its first response to the U.S.-led war against Iraq, North Korea said the South had been attempting to use the conflict as an occasion to launch "hostile, anti-North" campaigns. It said the conflict in the Gulf would have "disastrous consequences."

"The South has upgraded its military's alert status to 'Defcon 2,' citing the North, which has nothing to do with the Iraqi war," said the North's Committee for Peaceful Unification of the Fatherland, which handles relations with South Korea.

It warned the increased security measures could have an adverse effect on inter-Korean relations, saying North Korea "will not tolerate the developing situation in the South."

Normally, South Korean troops maintain a surveillance status of Watchcon (watch condition) 3, while their defense readiness is set at Defcon (defense condition) 4. When tension rises, the levels are upgraded, and in a war, they will be raised to the optimum status of Watchcon 1 and Defcon 1.

South Korea placed its military on high alert Thursday to cope with concerns that North Korea could use turbulence in the Persian Gulf as an opportunity to ratchet up tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Seoul's Defense Ministry said it has still maintained the Defcon level at 4, which requires a heightened defensive posture, and a Watchcon level of 3, which means intelligence officials must monitor North Korea's movements.

President Roh Moon-hyun has warned the North may commit a "demonstrative provocation" this month or next, when South Korea and the United States are staging their annual joint war games aimed at deterring the North. Roh's security adviser, Ra Jong-il, said there were no reports of unusual movements by the North Korean military.

North Korea insisted the ongoing joint military drills had been timed to coincide with the Iraq war, as part of efforts to turn the North into the next target after Iraq. The United States was conducting the war games in the South to test its capabilities of fighting two wars simultaneously.

"This clearly proves that the U.S. win-win strategy, a key link in the whole chain of its strategy to dominate the world by holding an upper hand in strength, is being put into practice on the Korean Peninsula," the sate-run (North) Korean Central News Agency said, adding its strong military is "fully ready to wipe out the aggressors to the last man at a single stroke."

Seoul's Unification Ministry expressed regret about the North's "groundless" criticism. "The position of our government is to prevent any negative fallout from the war in Iraq," it said in a statement.

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