- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 26, 2010

SEOUL | Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday the world must respond to the “unacceptable provocation” represented by the sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on Pyongyang, as the regime shelled out more blistering rhetoric against Seoul and Washington.

Tension on the divided Korean Peninsula has risen dramatically since international investigators said last week that a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine tore apart and sank the South Korean warship Cheonan on March 26, killing 46 sailors.

Relations are at their lowest point in a decade, when South Korea began reaching out to the North with unconditional aid as part of reconciliation efforts. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has taken a harder line against Pyongyang since taking office in 2008 amid delays in the North’s promised denuclearization and has suspended aid.

South Korea, backed by the U.S., Japan and other allies, began implementing a package of punitive measures against the North on Tuesday - ranging from slashing trade, resuming propaganda warfare and barring the North’s cargo ships. Those were seen as among the strongest it could implement short of military action.

“This was an unacceptable provocation by North Korea, and the international community has a responsibility and a duty to respond,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters in Seoul on the final leg of a three-nation Asian tour.

South Korea’s measures “are absolutely appropriate, and they have the full support of the United States,” she said.

Later Wednesday, North Korea again called the investigation results a “fabrication” and accused President Obama’s administration of being behind a plot to pinpoint the North as the culprit to bolster its military presence in the region.

“As a matter of fact, the Obama administration is straining the situation in a bid to beef up its forces in the region and tighten its military domination,” the official Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary. It did not mention Mrs. Clinton’s trip.

North Korea, which has vowed to retaliate against any punishment for the ship’s sinking, has declared it is cutting relations with South Korea, starting “all-out counterattacks” against the South’s psychological warfare operations and barring South Korean ships and airliners from passing through its territory.

On Wednesday, the North cut off some cross-border communication links and expelled eight South Korean government officials from a joint factory park in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.

The North’s military also issued a statement warning it would “totally ban” the passage of South Korean personnel and vehicles to Kaesong if Seoul does not stop psychological warfare operations. It also said it would “blow up” any propaganda loudspeakers South Korea installs at the border.

“We will never tolerate the slightest provocations of our enemies and will answer to that with all-out war,” Maj. Gen. Pak Chan Su, a Korean War veteran, said in Pyongyang, according to footage from Associated Press Television News. “This is the firm standpoint of our People’s Army.”

South Korea’s military said there were no signs of unusual activity by North Korean troops. The North and South technically have remained at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

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