SEOUL • Escalating military tensions on the divided Korean peninsula took an increasingly personal turn yesterday, with the leaders of the North and South each threatening the other's destruction.
For North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, that meant overseeing a long-range artillery drill, simulating a strike on the offices and official residence of his South Korean counterpart Park Geun Hye.
Ms Park countered by accusing Mr Kim of leading his country down an ultimately destructive path, and stressing the need for a drastic change of direction by the regime in Pyongyang.
Tensions between the two Koreas have been rising since the North 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 Seoul and the US mainland in response to large- scale war games between South Korea and the United States.
On Wednesday, the North warned of a "miserable end" facing Ms Park, with its artillery units standing ready to turn the presidential Blue House in Seoul into a "sea of flames and ashes".
According to a report by the North's official KCNA news agency yesterday, Mr Kim took that warning a step further by ordering and personally monitoring a live-fire exercise involving the same target.
"Artillery shells flew like lightning and intensely and fiercely struck targets simulating Cheong Wa Dae and rebel governing bodies in Seoul," KCNA said.
Cheong Wa Dae is the Korean name for the Blue House.
KCNA also said it was the largest drill of its type ever conducted, involving "hundreds of different types" of long-range artillery.
The North's ruling party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, published about 40 colour photos of the drill, showing Mr Kim watching through binoculars as multiple batteries of heavy-calibre artillery units and missile rocket launchers pounded an offshore island from a beach.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency, meanwhile, cited military sources as saying the exercise was held on Thursday near the eastern port city of Wonsan.
The KCNA report made clear that the artillery drill was a direct response to the annual military exercises between South Korea and the US that for the first time included an operation designed to "decapitate" the North's top leadership.
In Seoul, the Unification Ministry said Pyongyang's "provocative rhetoric" was self-defeating and urged it to drop its default stance of defiance against the global community.
And speaking at a memorial to mark bitter North-South clashes in the disputed Yellow Sea, Ms Park said the South would "not be shaken one bit" by threats.
With the rest of the world united in its opposition to Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, Ms Park said the opportunity was present "to bring about change in the North Korean regime" which would otherwise "self-destruct".
Separately, the Philippines yesterday said it had released a North Korean vessel impounded as part of tough new sanctions in response to the country's nuclear and ballistic missile tests.
Officials said the vessel left for China after being cleared by customs, immigration and port authorities.