S. Korea warns of 'merciless' response to North's provocations

South Korean President Park Geun Hye (front) inspects barbed wire fence during her trip to frontline troops on the Demilitarized Zone in Yanggu, South Korea on Tuesday, Dec 24, 2013. South Korea's president on Tuesday warned Seoul would react "m
South Korean President Park Geun Hye (front) inspects barbed wire fence during her trip to frontline troops on the Demilitarized Zone in Yanggu, South Korea on Tuesday, Dec 24, 2013. South Korea's president on Tuesday warned Seoul would react "mercilessly to any provocations" from the North, describing the situation over the border as "ominous" as she visited a frontline guard post. -- PHOTO: AP

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea's president on Tuesday warned Seoul would react "mercilessly to any provocations" from the North, describing the situation over the border as "ominous" as she visited a frontline guard post.

Seoul and Washington have been increasingly concerned over the stability of the North Korean regime following the execution two weeks ago of Jang Song Thaek, a high-level official and uncle of young leader Kim Jong Un.

"The security situation on the Korean peninsula is very grave. North Korea's internal situation is ominous, raising concerns about provocations," said South Korean President Park Geun Hye, wearing a military uniform on her first visit to the tense border since taking office in February.

"We should react sternly and mercilessly to any provocations by North Korea," she said, calling for "watertight security readiness".

Her warning came as Mr Kim, flanked by senior military officials, visited the mausoleum of his late father in Pyongyang to pay his respects on an important anniversary.

Mr Kim visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, which houses the embalmed bodies of his late father and grandfather, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

Mr Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, was formally made the country's top military commander on Dec 24 in 1991 - three years before the death of his own father and the country's founding president, Kim Il Sung.

TV news footage showed Mr Kim, clad in a dark Mao suit, standing before the white statues of his two predecessors, accompanied by dozens of uniformed military officials who bowed deeply towards the statues.

Among the top military cadres accompanying the young ruler were Choe Ryong Hae, the director of the military's political department, and defence chief Jang Jong Nam, KCNA said.

The visit came 12 days after Mr Kim executed his once-powerful uncle in the biggest political upheaval since he took power after the death of his father two years ago.

Jang Song Thaek, once the country's unofficial number two, was executed on Dec 12 after being accused of corruption and plotting a coup.

The shock purge - staged in an unusually public and dramatic fashion - has raised concerns about potential political instability in the isolated communist state.

Jang Song Thaek, 67, played a key role in cementing the power of the inexperienced Mr Kim, but his increasing political influence and power was resented by his nephew barely half his age, analysts said.

His growing control over the country's lucrative mineral trades drew ire of other top officials and played a role in his downfall, Seoul's intelligence chief said on Monday.

The reclusive state's propaganda mill has since gone into overdrive describing Jang as a traitor while extolling Mr Kim's leadership.

Tens of thousands of troops pledged loyalty to him in a mass rally on the death anniversary of his father last Tuesday.

The Kim dynasty has ruled the impoverished but nuclear-armed state since 1948 with an iron fist and pervasive personality cult.