Pyongyang warns of 'stern punishment' against Seoul

Pyongyang warns of 'stern punishment' against Seoul
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) inspecting a flight combat drill of fighter and bomber groups under the Guards 1st Air and Anti-Air Division of the Air and Anti-Air Force of the Korean People's Army (KPA) at an undisclosed location in North Korea.

The accusation came as the two Koreas were caught in a war of nerves over the resumption of dialogue: Seoul has offered to hold talks unconditionally to discuss pending bilateral issues, while Pyongyang has demanded the lifting of economic sanctions against it.

"South Korea should not haphazardly and thoughtlessly interpret our historic measures (for dialogue)," said the North's powerful National Defence Commission in a statement carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency.

"The South is deprecating our offer (of dialogue) as a choice to escape international isolation and economic sanctions, and a peace offensive aimed at stirring an (ideological) conflict within the South. Don't distort or make a fool of our sincerity and intentions."

Pyongyang resumed its harsh rhetoric after South Korean and US activists launched balloons of anti-Pyongyang leaflets last Monday and Seoul rejected its calls to cancel the South Korea-US military drills slated for next month. The North had refrained from slandering the South since its leader Kim Jong-un expressed his desire for inter-Korean dialogue in his New Year's speech.

The North has recently been seen to be striving to improve relations with the outside world through conditional offers for dialogue, moves that the international community has taken with a grain of salt due to the regime's unpredictability and insincerity.

The North has called on the US to cancel its military drills with South Korea next month in return for a moratorium on nuclear tests. Its leader Kim has also stressed his desire for inter-Korean talks including at the highest level, namely a bilateral summit.

But Pyongyang's peace offensive was seen by the media to be part of its efforts to ease international isolation caused by its development of nuclear arms and long-range missiles, human rights violations, and cyberattacks, most recently against Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The mood for inter-Korean dialogue has been dampened by the North, which demanded last Friday that Seoul lift its so-called May 24 economic sanctions should it want to hold talks to discuss a range of bilateral issues including the reunions of separated families.

Seoul has expressed regrets, stressing that the issue of family reunions should not be linked to the sanctions, which were put in place after the North was found to have carried out a torpedo attack on a South Korean warship in March 2010 that killed 46 sailors.

With the two Koreas failing to find a way to break the impasse, Seoul's Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae maintained a cautious stance, saying that the government was waiting for Pyongyang's reply to its initial offer of talks.

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