Most South Koreans doubt the North will start a war - poll

SEOUL - North Korea has ratcheted up international tension and fear with its sixth and largest nuclear test on Sunday, but South Koreans feel increasingly doubtful it would start a war, a poll showed on Friday.

A Gallup Korea survey found that 58 per cent of South Koreans felt there was no possibility North Korea will cause a war, while 37 per cent said they thought it would.

Gallup Korea began asking South Koreans the question in 1992, and the percentage of respondents this time who thought the North would not start a war was the second highest since then.

In the first poll in 1992, 69 per cent of those questioned thought the North would start a war while only 24 per cent thought it would not.

The survey released on Friday showed South Koreans were considerably less concerned about war compared with June 2007, nine months after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, in September 2006.

In 2007, 51 per cent of respondents said they expected a war, while 45 per cent did not.

North Korea says it needs to develop weapons to protect itself against US aggression.

It has been steadily pursuing its nuclear and missile programmes in defiance of international condemnation and has threatened more action in response to any new UN sanctions and US pressure.

Despite the North's fiery rhetoric, South Koreans are generally calm, going about their lives with no sign of panic. "The survey results show South Koreans have likely grown accustomed to its repeated threats of provocation after over 60 years in a ceasefire state," Gallup Korea said in a statement.

South Korea and the United States are technically still at war with North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

The poll also found that 60 per cent of those surveyed believed South Korea should arm itself with nuclear weapons while 35 per cent disagreed.

Those in their twenties were most opposed to the idea of acquiring nuclear weapons, while respondents 50 and above said the South should have them.

Gallup also said 59 per cent of respondents were against the idea of the United States attacking North Korea first should North Korean provocations continue, while 33 per cent said it should.

Gallup Korea said the poll was carried out from Sept. 5 to 7. A total of 1,004 South Koreans over the age of 19 were polled by telephone, it said.

The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 per cent.