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S. Korea warns `stern retaliation` against N. Korea`s provacation
DECEMBER 21, 2013 00:42  
North Korea has sent a message to South Korea`s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae, threatening to strike South Korea in response to conservatives` anti-Pyongyang rallies in Seoul. The North`s powerful National Defense Commission on Thursday sent a fax to South Korea`s National Security Council at the presidential office to threaten to strike the South "without any notice" if South Koreans repeatedly provoke the North`s "highest dignity."

South Korea`s Ministry of National Defense immediately replied, warning that Seoul would "sternly react" to any provocations.

It seems that North Korea`s reference to provocation against its "highest dignity" points to several conservative groups held anti-North Korea rallies in Seoul on Tuesday, when Pyongyang was holding a memorial ceremony for the North`s late leader Kim Jong Il.

During the rallies, the conservative demonstrators strongly protested against North Korea`s authoritarian rule and human rights abuse, with some burning photos of the North`s three generations of hereditary dictators Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un. North Korea has long shown irritated responses to South Koreans criticizing its leaders, using harsh rhetoric such as "merciless punishment" and "super large smear campaign." Jeong Yeong-tae, a senior researcher at Seoul`s Korea Institute for National Unification, said, "North Korea does not tolerate any kind of criticism against its highest dignity."

However, some experts say that the North`s military has increased its political influence since the recent purge and execution of Jang Song Thaek, the North Korean leader`s powerful uncle-in-law, and that such an hardline atmosphere is reflected in Thursday`s fax message. Choe Ryong Hae, director of the Korean People`s Army General Political Bureau who has emerged as the No. 2 man in power, said in a speech at Kim Jong Il`s memorial ceremony that "a war comes without an advertisement." Moreover, the North sent the fax message when the two Koreas were scheduled to hold talks to discuss ways to further develop their joint industrial park in Kaesong.

Some experts project that the North will likely continue to make similar threats, escalating the level of its provocations. "Now that Kim Jong Un has had a fresh coronation ceremony following the execution of Jang Song Thaek, he will have to show some results internally and externally," a South Korean official said. "A situation similar to the heightened tensions between the North and the South early this year could be repeated."

The South Korean government is on high alert over the North`s possible surprise provocation. "It is the first time that the North`s National Defense Commission sent a fax message to Cheong Wa Dae since the launch of the Park Geun-hye administration (in February this year)," a Cheong Wa Dae official noted. "We are not taking the threat lightly."

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