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N. Korea in armistice threat

North Korea has been besieged by drought, famine and economic difficulties in recent years

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Should North Korea's threat to pull out of the 1953 armistice be taken seriously?


- Ceasefire agreement signed between U.S. and North Korean forces 27 July, 1953

- No peace treaty ever signed, meaning both sides effectively still at war

- Agreement divided Korean Peninsula along the 38th parallel, creating a heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South

- Armistice overseen by U.S.-led United Nations Command and the North Korean military at "truce village" of Panmunjom.

- 650,000 South Korean troops and 37,000 U.S. troops on South side of DMZ; More than one million North Korean troops on North's side

• Analysis: What are the options?
• Six-nation talks: Where they stand
• Interactive: N. Korea military might
• Timeline: Nuclear development
• Interactive: The nuclear club
• Satellite image: Nuclear facility
• Special report: Nuclear crisis

PYONGYANG, North Korea (CNN) -- Pyongyang has ratcheted up tensions on the Korean peninsula another notch with threats to quit the armistice which ended the Korean War.

Accusing the United States of violating the 1953 agreement, North Korea's army says it will "immediately take all steps to cope with it" .

"If the U.S. side continues violating and misusing the armistice agreement as it pleases, there will be no need for the DPRK (North Korea) to remain bound to the AA (armistice) uncomfortably," an army spokesman was quoted as saying in the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

"The armistice agreement that was signed to provide a peaceful solution to the Korean issue has been systematically ditched by the U.S. and used for the purpose of its hostile policy toward the DPRK," the statement said.

The North accuses the United States of bolstering its forces by putting "aircraft carriers and strategic bombers in and around the Korean Peninsula in violation" of the armistice.

Such moves were part of Washington's plan for "preemptive attacks" on North Korea -- a situation "getting more serious as the days go."

The statement also cites a December incident in which the Spanish special forces boarded a North Korean vessel bound for Yemen with missiles among its cargo.

Referring to that incident, the army spokesman said, "This is little short of an open declaration of war in the long run."

"The grave situation created by the undisguised war acts committed by the U.S. in breach of the AA compels the KPA, its warring party, to immediately take all steps to cope with it."

The threat comes a day after the North aimed a verbal barrage at Washington, saying the North would win any nuclear conflict with the U.S. thanks to Pyongyang's "army-first" political system.

Pyongyang has said before that it would not adhere to the 1953 pact, which was signed by China and North Korea on the communist side and by the U.S.-led United Nations Command on the side of the international community.

South Korea did not sign the pact and is technically still at war with the North.

In Seoul, South Korea's Defence Ministry said no unusual moves by the North Koreans were sighted and that the comments appeared to be more of Pyongyang's sabre-rattling as it agitates for direct talks with Washington over the North's nuclear program, Reuters reports.

North Korea is the world's most heavily militarized society, with a million-strong army and a military budget expenditure of over $5 billion annually -- equal to a little over 30 percent of North Korea's gross domestic product, according to CIA figures.

But the Stalinist state has been besieged by drought, famine and economic difficulties in recent years, leading to questions over the functionality of its military might.

Pyongyang has claimed on numerous occasions that the U.S. is preparing to strike North Korea.

The Bush administration has said it has no plans for military action, but the communist state has been pressing for a non-aggression pact as well as direct dialogue with the U.S.

A standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons program began in October when the U.S. said Pyongyang admitted to secretly pursuing plans to enrich uranium, violating a 1994 agreement.

North Korea then dismissed weapons inspectors, pulled out of the international nuclear anti-proliferation treaty and restarted its nuclear facilities.

Pyongyang insists it has plans only to generate electricity due to an energy shortfall brought on by the U.S. halting its fuel oil supplies to North Korea.

The communist state also maintains that its dispute is only with Washington and needs to be solved with two-way, face-to-face dialogue.

A N. Korean military guard post in the demilitarized zone is dressed up to celebrate leader Kim Jong Il's 61st birthday on Sunday
A N. Korean military guard post in the demilitarized zone is dressed up to celebrate leader Kim Jong Il's 61st birthday on Sunday

International diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis are continuing. The U.N. is now set to take a more aggressive role after its nuclear watchdog agency referred the matter to the U.N. Security Council.

The Security Council has the power to impose sanctions on North Korea -- something Pyongyang has said would mount to a declaration of war.

The U.S., however, wants to push the U.N. for a condemnation of Pyongyang, rather than sanctions.

North Korea's traditional allies China and Russia -- both permanent members of the council -- are pressing for a diplomatic solution. (Peaceful solution sought)

In other developments, Britain's Sunday Telegraph has reported that North Korea plans to build four new nuclear power plants.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has insisted nuclear weapons are not being produced at its existing facilities and he would not use the new plants to do so either, the report said. (Full story)

Reuters contributed to this report.

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