S. Korea vows to retaliate if provoked by North

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea warned on Wednesday that it would retaliate against any provocation from North Korea, a day after the North threatened to tear up the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953.

"If North Korea carries out provocations that threaten the lives and safety of South Koreans, our military will carry out strong and resolute retaliations," Army General Kim Yong Hyun told reporters.

Gen Kim's briefing followed North Korea's announcement on Tuesday that it would "completely declare invalid" the armistice agreement in response to US-led moves to toughen UN sanctions on North Korea after its recent nuclear test.

The announcement, attributed to the spokesman of the North Korean army's supreme command, also threatened an undefined "strike of justice" against a target of the North's choosing.

Because the 1950-1953 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas remain technically at war, with the ceasefire agreement theoretically the only barrier to a resumption of full hostilities.

The North has threatened to rip up the agreement before, and it has not prevented repeated and often bloody land and sea border clashes.

But the latest threat comes at a time of particularly heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula, following the North's successful launch of a long range rocket in December and its nuclear test last month.

Tuesday's army statement included a pointed mention of North Korea possessing "lighter and smaller nukes" than before.

The UN Security Council is expected to adopt tougher sanctions against the North this week - a move likely to provoke a response from Pyongyang, which is also angry about a series of joint US-South Korean military drills.

In his briefing in Seoul on Wednesday, Gen Kim, who is director general of operations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said South Korean retaliation would not only target the "origin of provocation" but also the North's commanding forces.

Last month, the South Korean military released video footage of a newly deployed cruise missile which they said was capable of carrying out high precision strikes anywhere in North Korea.