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N. Korea in new threat

Panmunjom (South Korea), Feb. 18 (Reuters): Communist North Korea threatened today to abandon the 1953 Korean War armistice if a naval blockade or other sanctions are imposed because of its suspected nuclear weapons programme.

War warnings and assertions that the US is poised to attack the North have been daily fare in Pyongyang’s official media since the nuclear crisis flared up late last year.

North Korea demands a non-aggression pact with the US, while Washington wants multilateral talks to press Pyongyang to verifiably halt its suspected atomic programme.

It was not immediately clear whether today’s statement, from the North’s Korean People’s Army (KPA), was anything more than fresh brinkmanship. North Korea quit most armistice activities in 1994 and has a history of challenging the truce, US officials say.

There was no sign of unusual tension at the Panmunjom truce village which straddles the North-South border. Ten North Korean soldiers escorted a handful of Russian and Chinese tourists on the northern side of the frontier line. In Beijing, North Korean foreign minister Paek Nam-sun, on a stopover en route to an international meeting in Malaysia, held talks in Beijing today.

“Both sides said the current Korean peninsula issue should be resolved through peaceful means and dialogue,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said after Paek met vice-minister of foreign affairs Wang Yi.

Diplomats in Beijing said China had been applying pressure quietly, although it remained opposed to sanctions against the unpredictable North, fearing they could provoke Pyongyang further or even push it towards a collapse that would destabilise the region.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who retires next week, said the nuclear crisis had forced him to consider all security threats, but “my conclusion is that I believe the danger of war on the Korean peninsula is slight — in fact, non-existent”.

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