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North Korea threatens naval action

North Korea threatens naval action
Members of the United Nations Command Security Battalion/Joint Security Area observe North Korea from an Observation Post located in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, October 10, 1998. On Monday, May 25, 2009 North Korea allegedly detonated a nuclear device during an underground test and test fired several short range missile. North Korea announced that it has restarted its nuclear weapons research program. (UPI Photo/Jeffrey Allen/DOD) | License Photo

SEOUL, May 28 (UPI) -- North Korea reacted angrily to South Korean naval exercises close to its border by scrapping a maritime agreement designed to prevent accidental naval clashes.

North Korea will "completely nullify" an agreement that has both navies using a common communication wavelength for some messages, a statement in the government-owned Korean Central News Agency said.

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The government in Pyongyang "will completely stop using international maritime ultra-short wave walkie-talkies and will immediately cut off the communication line that was opened to handle an emergency situation."

The KCNA article also warned that North Korea would immediately attack any South Korean naval ship found inside its territorial waters in the Yellow Sea, although the exact maritime border remains in dispute.

Threats by both sides come after an international investigation team concluded that it was a North Korean torpedo that sank the 1,200-ton South Korean Cheonan in the Yellow Sea on March 26, killing 46 sailors.

North Korea consistently denied that one of its navy submarines sank the Cheonan.

South Korea responded to the investigators' report by threatening to take the issue to the U.N. Security Council in a move to increase international sanctions against the North.

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South Korea reportedly began naval exercises this week with U.S. Navy participation. At least 10 ships, including a 3,000-ton destroyer, are taking part. Artillery and anti-submarine bombs have been tested as part of the exercise designed to detect submarines.

The North Korean article denounced the naval exercise by "the puppet forces" of South Korea and ships from "the U.S. imperialist aggressor" forces.

The latest outburst by North Korea's media raised tensions further between the two Koreas still officially at war since the Korean conflict ended in 1953 with only a cease-fire and not a peace treaty.

The sinking of the Cheonan is a setback for inter-Korea relations that had been showing signs of improvement, despite issues over the North's nuclear program.

But South Korea has begun withdrawing its personnel from the Kaesong Industrial Region, a joint North and South economic project set up in 2002.

Kaesong is within North Korea and about 6 miles from the demilitarized zone separating two countries. It has direct rail access to the South and is about an hour's drive from the South Korean capital Seoul.

Both Koreas benefit from the trade with the cash-strapped North gaining more than $33 million year. About 100 South Korean companies are based in the Kaesong region and employ 40,000 North Koreans.

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In retaliation, North Korea banned South Korean ships and planes from entering its maritime and airspace, effectively freezing trade with the South.

South Korea has received backing from many countries, including the United States, Japan and the European Union.

This week U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Seoul, called for more international action against the north over the Cheonan incident.

She called on Pyongyang to stop its "policy of belligerence." The sinking was "an unacceptable provocation by North Korea and the international community has a responsibility and a duty to respond."

China, North Korea's main ally, has neither openly criticized Pyongyang nor accepted the investigators' report on the Cheonan. However, an editorial in Beijing's Global Times newspaper appears to indicate that China may be losing patience with North Korea's belligerent attitude.

"It is time for Pyongyang to convince a skeptical world with solid evidence, as Seoul has already presented its evidence," the editorial said.

"A cold reality confronting Pyongyang now is that South Korea has presented evidence so overwhelming that it has gained full support from the United States and Japan and dominated worldwide public opinion on this issue.

"In contrast, North Korea has merely thrown in strong verbiage along with the threat of an all-out war. Its reaction will by no means help Pyongyang get out of the current predicament."

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