By Kurt Achin of VOA News from Seoul, Korea
In some of the harshest language used by Seoul in decades, South Korea’s president has outlined plans to hold North Korea accountable for a deadly naval attack. In response, North Korea said Monday it would fire shots at loudspeakers South Korea plans to set up near the tense inter-Korean border.
The resumption of loudspeaker broadcasts across the border is one of many steps South Korea’s government announced, on a day that began with stern words toward the North by President Lee Myung-bak. Mr. Lee says South Korea has always tolerated North Korea’s brutality, time and again. But now, he said, things are different, adding that North Korea will pay a price for its provocative acts.
For decades after the Korean War in the early 1950s, North and South Korea bombarded each other with propaganda broadcasts across the Demilitarized Zone that divides them. The broadcasts ended six years ago, as a result of South Korea’s policy then of trying to engage with Pyongyang.
The latest tensions were sparked when 46 South Korean sailors were killed in March after an explosion ripped their patrol ship in half, near a border disputed by North Korea. A multinational team presented extensive evidence last week concluding a North Korean submarine fired a torpedo at the ship. Pyongyang calls the findings a “fabrication.”
In a nationally televised address, President Lee said key areas of cooperation will be severed.
He said all inter-Korean trade and exchanges are coming to a halt. In addition, North Korean vessels will no longer be allowed the privilege of passage through South Korean waters.
President Lee says South Korea’s military will take immediate measures to defend the country if the North encroaches on its territory. However, he emphasized the South is not seeking armed conflict with North Korea.
President Lee says minimal humanitarian aid to the impoverished North will continue.
Key security-related ministers held a rare joint news conference to spell out further steps. Defense Minister Kim Tae-young vowed South Korea would resume “psychological warfare” toward the North, and promised new military cooperation with the United States. Kim also said South Korea and the United States will hold a joint anti-submarine warfare drill. The finest U.S. and South Korean forces will participate, to improve defenses against the North’s naval capabilities.
Other steps were announced by South Korea’s Unification Minister Hyun In-taek, who said Seoul will take steps to rein in North-South business. He says South Koreans will be barred from visiting the North, and Seoul will curtail unnecessary interaction. He adds Seoul will ban new investment in the North, and halt government support for North Korea as a matter of principle.
South Korea plans to take its case to the United Nations Security Council to seek new sanctions against Pyongyang.
President Obama says Washington fully backs South Korea in its response to the ship sinking. He has ordered the U.S. military to “work closely with South Korea to ensure readiness and deter future aggression.” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed the president’s words during talks with Chinese officials in Beijing Monday, sauing the U.S. and South Korea are in close consultations on the North Korea situation.
Clinton said she is having very intensive discussions with the Chinese government on the issue, but would only say that Beijing recognizes the “gravity” of the situation and understands South Korea’s reaction.