North Korea leader warns of 'very grave' situation on Korean peninsula

South Korean marines stand guard at a guard post on Baengnyeongdo, an island near the border with North Korea, on April 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
South Korean marines stand guard at a guard post on Baengnyeongdo, an island near the border with North Korea, on April 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has warned of a "very grave" situation on the Korean peninsula, where soaring military tensions have seen the two Koreas trade artillery fire and Pyongyang threaten a new nuclear test.

In a meeting with top military leaders on Tuesday, Mr Kim blamed Washington and Seoul for the current frictions, saying they had trampled on peace overtures from Pyongyang.

"The current situation is very grave," he was quoted as saying by the North's official KCNA news agency on Wednesday.

Mr Kim, the supreme commander of the Korean People's Army (KPA), told his senior-most officers that despite the North's conciliatory gestures, South Korea and the United States had pushed ahead with joint military drills that Pyongyang views as rehearsals for invasion.

"The United States and other hostile forces, ignoring our magnanimity and goodwill, are viciously stepping up their manoeuvres in order to annihilate our republic politically, isolate it economically and crush it militarily," he said.

The North Korean military and people will never tolerate the "US policy of hostility" and will "crush it thoroughly", Mr Kim added.

The rhetoric seemed largely aimed at a domestic audience and Mr Kim's more combative remarks were not translated in the English version of the KCNA dispatch.

Just one month ago, inter-Korean relations appeared to be enjoying something of a thaw.

In February, the two rivals held rare, high-level talks, after which they held the first reunion in more than three years for families divided by the Korean War.

Even when the annual South Korean-US military exercises began at the end of February, the protests from Pyongyang were relatively muted, and there was talk of further high-level meetings and greater cooperation.

But the mood soon soured, and recent weeks have seen North Korea conduct a series of rocket and missile tests, culminating last month in the test firing of two medium-range ballistic missiles capable of striking Japan.

On Monday, North Korea conducted a live fire drill along the disputed maritime border. After some shells crossed the boundary, South Korea responded and the two sides ended up firing hundreds of artillery rounds into each other's territorial waters.

The exchange of fire came the day after North Korea sounded an ominous warning that it might carry out a "new" type of nuclear test - a possible reference to testing a uranium-based device or a miniaturised warhead small enough to fit on a ballistic missile.

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