- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, March 7 (UPI) — South Korea's Defense Ministry protested Friday over North Korea's recent military maneuvers, warning they had caused a "dangerous situation" on the divided peninsula.

In a statement, the ministry urged North Korea's military to "act in a more prudent and responsible manner" to avoid "serious consequences."

"North Korea's military has recently made tension on the Korean peninsula through a series of military activities," the ministry said.

"We're deeply concerned that such tension-building activities by the North Korean military undermine the efforts of our government and the international community to peacefully resolve the North Korean nuclear issue," it said.

The ministry said it was particularly concerned by the interception of a U.S. aircraft by North Korean fighter jets last Sunday. The North Korean MiG fighters threatened to shoot down the U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft in international airspace between the Korean peninsula and Japan.

The confrontation was the most serious between the Cold War rivals since the nuclear crisis erupted in October when the United States said North Korea had admitted having a nuclear weapons program in violation of a 1994 agreement.

In response to the North's "aggressive" move, U.S. military officials said they were reviewing options, including having U.S. fighter jets escort similar flights. U.S. B-52 and B-1 bombers landed Thursday on the Pacific island of Guam to deter North Korea in the event of a U.S.-led war with Iraq.

Seoul's Defense Ministry said the interception had created a dangerous situation on the peninsula, which remains in a state of technical war since the 1950-53 war ended without a peace treaty.

Defense Minister Cho Young-kil said the North's interception was a "calculated" move to raise the stakes in its diplomatic showdown with the United States.

"The interception was seen as part of the North's brinkmanship strategy to pressure the United States for direct talks," Cho told the National Assembly on Friday. "We will bolster our defense posture and heighten military alert," Cho said.

The ministry also criticized the North Korean military for sending a fighter jet to violate South Korean airspace late last month.

A North Korean MiG-19 fighter plane intruded into South Korean air space on Feb. 20. It returned after South Korea's fighters scrambled and a missile battery was put on high alert. The incursion was the first by a North Korean military jet since 1983.

The series of military maneuvers came after North Korea threatened to abandon the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War if the United States went ahead with sanctions or other actions against Pyongyang.

Cho said the incursion was part of efforts to "nullify" the armistice. The ministry statement said it "strongly urges the (North) Korean People's Army to act in a more prudent and responsible manner."

The ministry also warned the North's military activities could cause" serious consequences to the security of the Korean peninsula."

In an effort to calm security jitters, Prime Minister Goh Kun called on the U.S. ambassador in Seoul to maintain U.S. military strength in South Korea, saying his country still needed American troops as a "trip wire," which U.S. forces would be automatically drawn into any new conflicts on the peninsula.

Seoul and Washington plan to launch formal consultations next month to reshape the U.S. military presence here, which will mainly discuss a possible reduction in the number of U.S. troops. The United States keeps 37,000 soldiers in South Korea under a bilateral defense treaty signed after the Korean War.

In Washington Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the presence of U.S. troops near the border with North Korea had become "intrusive" to South Koreans. He said the United States was considering either moving the troops southward or out of Korea altogether.

"I suspect … we'll end up making some adjustments there," Rumsfeld said at a town hall meeting with Defense Department employees at the Pentagon. "Whether the forces would come home or whether they'd move farther south on the peninsula or whether they'd move to some neighboring area are the kinds of things that are being sorted out. The same thing's true with our forces in Western Europe."

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