SEOUL, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- South Korea Thursday asked its military to stay alert to any North Korean provocation as it looked into the North's latest offer to improve ties.
Responding to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's New Year message promising to make efforts to improve relations between the two Koreas, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin warned against falling prey to the North's "carrot-and-stick strategy," Yonhap News reported.
The unpredictable North Korean leader, who in his televised New Year message hailed the recent purges that included the execution of his powerful uncle Jang Song Thaek for treason, also said: "We will make aggressive efforts to improve relations between the North and the South. The South side should also come forward to improve relations between the North and the South."
South Korea already is concerned the North may resort to military provocations against the South as part of its strategy to forge internal unity in the wake of Jang's execution last month.
South Korea and the United States have put their military on higher alert following Jang's purge, as Pyongyang has a track record of carrying out provocations when experiencing internal instability to divert people's attention and forge unity, Yonhap said.
The report said North Korea last month warned of military strikes against South Korea after a Seoul rally where conservative protesters burned effigies of Kim and his father and grandfather, the late Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung.
In his message, the North Korean leader also announced he would seek to rebuild the shattered economy of his nuclear-armed country in 2014, stressing food production.
Kim said the recent "purge of anti-party and counterrevolutionary factionalists has strengthened the party." Without naming Jang, the leader called him a "factional filth," Yonhap said.
"It remains to be seen whether the North will change its attitude in the future as it continues to criticize" South Korea, said a news release from Seoul's Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.
"The enemy would be bringing destruction on itself if it attempts to test our capabilities and readiness," the South Korean Defense Minister said in a letter to military commanders, ordering them to strike back mercilessly without hesitation in case of enemy provocations.