North Korea's Kim Jong Un watches artillery drill targeting South's president

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (centre) inspects the February 11 Plant under the Ryongsong Machine Complex in North Korea in this undated handout.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (centre) inspects the February 11 Plant under the Ryongsong Machine Complex in North Korea in this undated handout. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a live-fire long-range artillery drill, simulating a strike on the official residence of his South Korean counterpart, state media said Friday (March 25), as Pyongyang's threats against Seoul turned increasingly personal.

"Artillery shells flew like lightning and intensely and fiercely struck targets simulating Cheong Wa Dae and rebel governing bodies in Seoul," the North's official KCNA news agency said.

Cheong Wa Dae is the Korean name for the executive office and official residence of the South Korean president, known as the Blue House in English.

Military tensions on the divided Korean peninsula have been escalating since North korea carried out its fourth nuclear test in January, and a satellite rocket launch a month later that was widely seen as a disguised ballistic missile test.

Pyongyang has upped the rhetorical ante in recent weeks, with near daily threats of nuclear and conventional strikes against the South and the US mainland in response to large-scale South-US war games.

On Wednesday, it warned of a "miserable end" facing South Korean president Park Geun Hye, with its artillery units standing ready to turn her Blue House into a "sea of flames and ashes." Friday's report took that threat a step further with an actual live-fire exercise involving the same target.

According to KCNA, it was the largest drill of its type ever conducted, involving "hundreds of different types" of long-range artillery.

"If the enemies challenge us ... our artillery forces' merciless retaliating blow will turn Seoul into rubble and ashes," Kim, who personally ordered and monitored the drill, was quoted as saying.

The North always reacts strongly to the annual South-US military exercises, which it sees as provocative rehearsals for invasion.

Its protests have been especially vocal this year, because of the inclusion in the drills of a special operation that envisages strikes to "decapitate" North Korea's top leadership.

The KCNA report made it clear that the artillery drill was a direct response to that operation by "the gangster US and Park Geun Hye forces."

The North's fourth nuclear test in January saw the UN Security Council - backed by Pyongyang's main ally China - impose its harshest sanctions to date over the North's nuclear weapons programme.

The North responded defiantly, claiming a series of key breakthroughs in its development of a long-range nuclear strike capability, and conducting its first test firing in two year of a medium-range ballistic missile.

In Seoul, Park has maintained a hardline stance against the North's provocations, saying they reflected a "sense of crisis" in Pyongyang and warning Kim that he was "walking the path of self-destruction."