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(LEAD) N. Korea warns of naval clash despite widening thaw with S. Korea

All Headlines 15:25 October 15, 2009

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout; RECASTS lead, headline; ADDS background)
By Sam Kim

SEOUL, Oct. 15 (Yonhap) -- Just a day after expressing regret for causing a flash flood that killed six South Koreans last month, North Korea renewed its warning Thursday of a naval clash off the west coast where skirmishes turned bloody twice in the past.

Accusing South Korea of repeatedly sending battleships into its territorial waters, North Korea said Seoul is deliberately trying to raise tension and dampen thawing ties between the divided states.

"It is clear to everyone what consequences the third skirmish in the West Sea of Korea will entail," the North's Navy said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

Clashes in 1999 and 2002 led to the deaths of dozens of sailors on both sides, South Korean military officials say, denying their Navy has intruded north of the Northern Limit Line.

North Korea refuses to respect the 1953 truce line that was drawn by an American general at the end of the three-year Korean War.

"The Navy of the Korea People's Army will not sit idly by while the South Korean military authorities try to turn the phantom line into a maritime military demarcation line," the North said. "They should bear in mind that warnings are bound to be followed by actions."

The bellicose rhetoric came only a day after talks with South Korea in which the North expressed regret over a flood that swept six South Korean campers to their deaths on Sept. 6.

The unannounced pre-dawn surge at the Imjin river, which flows across the heavily armed inter-Korean border, was triggered when the North opened a dam that it later said had reached its maximum level.

It is rare for the North to express regret over its actions.

North Korea accepted South Korea's proposal to hold Wednesday's talks on joint flood control after it test-fired a salvo of advanced short-range missiles off the east coast on Monday -- its such first action in three months.

Relations between the Koreas have deteriorated since President Lee Myung-bak took office in Seoul with a pledge to tie reconciliation to the North's efforts to denuclearize.

North Korea threatened the safety of foreign vessels sailing near the de facto Yellow Sea border early this year, calling Lee a traitor trying to topple the regime in Pyongyang.

North Korea then conducted its second nuclear test in May, a month after it launched a long-range rocket that neighbors believe was built with the technology used in creating a ballistic missile.

But the country, slapped with tougher U.N. sanctions, has in recent months taken a conciliatory gesture toward the outside world, agreeing to reunions of Korean families separated by war and nudging the U.S. toward bilateral dialogue.


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