SEOUL – North Korea leader Kim Jong Un threatened to “wipe out” a South Korean island as Pyongyang came under new economic and diplomatic fire Tuesday from U.S. sanctions and U.N. charges of gross rights abuses.
Military tensions on the Korean Peninsula have risen to their highest level for years, with the communist state under the youthful Kim threatening nuclear war in response to United Nations sanctions imposed after it conducted its third atomic test last month.
It has also announced its unilateral shredding of the 60-year-old Korean War armistice and nonaggression pacts with Seoul in protest at a joint South Korean-U.S. military exercise that began Monday.
A U.N. spokesman, however, said that Pyongyang cannot unilaterally dissolve the armistice, which is still valid. Seoul also refused to recognize the move Tuesday.
“Unilateral abrogation or termination of the armistice agreement is not allowed under its regulations or according to international law,” South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai Young told reporters.
While most of the North’s statements have been dismissed as rhetorical bluster, the latest threat to the border island of Baengnyeong, which has around 5,000 civilian residents, appears credible and carries the weight of precedent.
In 2010, the South Korean Navy vessel Cheonan was sunk in the area of Baengnyeong with the loss of 46 lives, and later that year North Korea shelled the nearby island of Yeonpyeong, killing four people.
On a visit Monday to frontline artillery units, Jong Un briefed officers on their mission “to strike and wipe out the enemies” on Baengnyeong and turn the island into a “sea of fire.”
“Once an order is issued, you should break the waists of the crazy enemies, totally cut their windpipes and thus clearly show them what a real war is like,” Kim was quoted as saying by the Korean Central News Agency.
Kim Young Gu, an administrative official on Baengnyeong, said civilian emergency shelters on the island have been fully stocked and all village councils put on high alert.
“It’s not like there’s a mass exodus of panicked islanders to the mainland. But to be honest with you, we’re a bit scared,” he said by telephone.
The disputed sea border off the west coast was the scene of deadly naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and 2009.
Residents on a number of frontline islands have reportedly taken to sleeping in their clothes in preparation for a nighttime alert.
Rodman, Kim to vacation
The odd couple is getting odder: first, Dennis Rodman and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un take in a hoops game side by side. Now, they’re reportedly planning a holiday together.
The retired and flamboyant 51-year-old, who announced the vacation plan Monday, became the most high-profile American to meet Kim, doing so during a recent trip to Pyongyang that came against a backdrop of increased North Korean saber-rattling on the peninsula.
In brief comments to the KXJB local television station in Fargo, North Dakota, Rodman described Kim as a friend.
“I don’t condone what he does, but he’s my friend,” Rodman told a reporter. But, asked if he planned to return to North Korea, Rodman replied: “Yes I will. In August. I’m vacationing with him.”