North Korea has renewed threats to attack South Korea, this time over anger about activists holding anti-Kim Jong Un regime rallies in Seoul.
The powerful North Korean National Defense Commission, in a letter faxed to South Korean President Park Geun-hye's National Security Council, warned of "retaliatory strikes without warning" as punishment for the protest activities, the New York Times reported.
Following the recent announcement that Kim's uncle and one-time adviser, Jang Song Thaek, had been executed on charges of treason, Seoul has been concerned Pyongyang might carry out new incitements. Possibilities include a military assault or nuclear test aimed at distracting North Koreans from the internal power disturbances in the Kim regime.
"We are closely monitoring the North Korean military's moves, preparing to sternly react to any provocations," South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.
Jang's purge may have been the work of hawks inside the North Korean military and governing Worker's Party who did not like his ideas on economic modernization and about the country's nuclear and missile development efforts, according to ex-North Korean diplomat Hyon Song Il, now an analyst at a South Korean government think-tank.
"We cannot rule out the possibility that the North Korean military might attempt a local armed provocation to raise its profile," onetime South Korean Vice Minister of Unification Kim Chun-sik said at a Friday forum in Seoul.
Relations between the two Koreas were soured this past spring when the North severed all bilateral military communication, deployed ballistic missiles to its coast and repeatedly threatened to carry out nuclear attacks on South Korea. Fallout from Jang's purge could wipe out what little progress has been made in recent months in lowering tensions on the Korean Peninsula, according to experts.
Even as the North Korean military faxed warnings of armed reprisals to the South Korean government, officials from the two countries on Thursday held talks on joint economic activities at the Kaesong industrial complex inside the North. That makes it difficult to gauge the credibility of Pyongyang's latest threats.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying on Friday urged "all relevant parties" to "exercise restraint and refrain from any words and deeds that will increase tension on the Korean Peninsula," the Yonhap News Agency reported.