N. Korea to hold meeting of top leaders as tensions simmer on peninsula

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea's top leaders are to meet in the coming days to decide on an unspecified "important" issue, official media said Wednesday, as tensions simmer on the Korean peninsula.

The Political Bureau of the Communist Party's Central Committee will convene its plenary meeting before the end of March to "discuss and decide an important issue for victoriously advancing the Korean revolution", the Korean Central News Agency said.

KCNA did not specify the date for the meeting, which will also reportedly make a "drastic turn" in accomplishing the North's Juche (self-reliance) revolutionary cause.

Analysts in Seoul said decisions on issues concerning security, international relations and reshuffle of personnel were likely to be made at the meeting and approved by the North's rubber-stamp parliament, meeting on April 1.

"They will discuss how to handle the nuclear issue, inter-Korean relations and North Korea's long-standing demand for a peace treaty with the United States," Professor Yang Moo Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul told AFP.

Prof Yang said Jang Song Thaek, uncle of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, could be appointed as prime minister with the task of resuscitating the country's struggling socialist economy.

There could also be changes in the make-up of the powerful Presidium of the Political Bureau.

Vice Marshall Hyon Yong Chol, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, could join the body, which would further strengthen the military's say over key state affairs, said Yang.

Angered by UN sanctions imposed after its nuclear test in February, Pyongyang has issued a wave of threats over the past month - ranging from a surgical military strike to nuclear war.

North Korea's military put its "strategic" rocket units on a war footing Tuesday, with a fresh threat to strike targets on the US mainland, Hawaii and Guam, as well as South Korea.

The move came as South Korea marked the third anniversary of the sinking of its naval vessel "Cheonan" by what Seoul insists was a North Korean submarine.

In the latest sign of tensions, a South Korean soldier standing on guard at the inter-Korean border threw a grenade towards a moving object in the dark early Wednesday, sparking a short-lived alarm, the defence ministry said.

At daylight, a patrol searched the area but there was no trace of any infiltration from North Korea, a ministry spokesman said.

A precautionary alert, which had been issued for South Korean units in the northeastern county of Hwacheon, was consequently lifted.

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