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North Korea military on ‘highest alert’

Renews threats against South, US mainland

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un talked with generals on Monday during drills, one of many recent visits to military units.

KCNA/REUTERS

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un talked with generals on Monday during drills, one of many recent visits to military units.

SEOUL — North Korea’s military said it placed all its missile and artillery units on ‘‘the highest alert’’ on Tuesday, ordering them to be ready to hit South Korea, as well as the United States and its military installations in the Pacific islands of Hawaii and Guam.

The threat from the North’s Korean People’s Army Supreme Command came only hours after President Park Geun-hye of South Korea warned that the North Korean leadership could ensure its survival only when it abandons its nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, provocations, and threats.

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In its latest threat, North Korea said on Tuesday that all its strategic rocket and long-range artillery units ‘‘are assigned to strike bases of the US imperialist aggressor troops in the US mainland and on Hawaii and Guam and other operational zones in the Pacific as well as all the enemy targets in South Korea and its vicinity.’’

“They should be mindful that everything will be reduced to ashes and flames the moment the first attack is unleashed,’’ the North Korean command said in a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have risen following North Korea’s launching of a three-stage rocket in December and its third nuclear test last month. In response, Washington and Seoul spearheaded a UN Security Council resolution imposing more sanctions on North Korea and began their annual joint military drills aimed at warning North Korea against attacking the South.

North Korea has since issued a torrent of threats to turn Washington and Seoul into a ‘‘sea of fire.’’ Its leader, Kim Jong Un, who has inherited the ‘‘military-first’’ policy of his late father, Kim Jong Il, has made a round of visits to military units in the last week.

He inspected live-fire artillery and amphibious landing exercises, ordering his soldiers to send the enemies ‘‘to the bottom of the sea as they run wild like wolves threatened with fire,’’ according to North Korean media.

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In South Korea, Park, the country’s first female president, showed her own resolve Tuesday, visiting a national cemetery to pay respects to the 46 sailors who were killed in 2010 when a South Korean navy corvette sank in an explosion the South said was caused by a North Korean torpedo attack.

‘‘I strongly urge North Korea to change,’’ she said in a nationally televised speech marking the three-year anniversary of the incident. ‘‘North Korea must immediately abandon its thought that nuclear weapons will protect its regime.’’

Although North Korea denied responsibility for the sinking and some South Koreans questioned the credibility of their government’s investigation, which assigned blame to the North, the 2010 episode has become for many South Koreans an emotional symbol of North Korean hostility.

On Monday, the South’s conservative daily Chosun Ilbo cited unnamed government officials as saying that if North Korea launched a provocation like the Cheonan sinking, the South Korean military would retaliate by launching missiles at gigantic statues of Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, and father, which are objects of worship in the North.

The South Korean Defense Ministry would not comment on the report, but vowed a ‘‘thousandfold, ten-thousandfold retaliation’’ against a Cheonan-like provocation from the North.

Calling the monuments ‘‘symbols of the dignity of the supreme leadership’’ of North Korea, the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, an agency in charge of relations with Seoul, said Tuesday that the North ‘‘will destroy the den of confrontation including Chongwadae, hotbed of all evils.’’

Chongwadae, or ‘‘the Blue House,’’ is the South Korean presidential office. North Korea warned that Park should not repeat the ‘‘treacherous acts’’ of her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, whose hard-line policy, coupled with North Korean provocations, had resulted in a prolonged chill on the peninsula.

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