North scraps armistice, cuts hotline

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

North Korea said Monday the armistice agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War has now been scrapped as South Korea and the U.S. began their joint military exercises as planned.

The North’s Rodong Sinmun, published by the Workers’ Party of Korea, said the armistice is “completely nullified from today” and the country’s weapons are ready to be used at any time.

The most widely circulated daily said, “Now is the time for the final battle” and “no one can predict” what may happen in the region, indicating the possibility of another test of a nuclear device or other provocative military actions.

Experts note that North Korea has declared the ceasefire dead or obsolete nearly a dozen times in the past 20 years.

On the last occasion in 2009, the North specifically said it would no longer guarantee the safety of U.S. or South Korean naval vessels operating near the disputed maritime border. The sinking of the South Korean naval vessel, Cheonan, and the shelling of a South Korean island near the border followed in 2010.

North Korea’s escalation of bellicose rhetoric in response to the joint military exercises, known as Key Resolve involving 10,000 South Korean and 3,500 U.S. military personnel, comes after the U.N. Security Council on Thursday slapped Pyongyang with the toughest sanctions yet for its nuclear test in February in defiance of international warnings.

Last week, in addition to abandoning the armistice, the North threatened to nullify all nonaggression pacts reached between the two Koreas and cut off its hotline with Seoul, if the joint military exercises kicked off Monday.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry confirmed Monday that the Red Cross hotline used to communicate between Seoul and Pyongyang had been severed. The hotline was installed in 1971 and North Korea has severed it on five occasions in the past — most recently in 2010.