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(3rd LD) N. Korea says inter-Korean relations enter into war phase

All Headlines 10:14 March 30, 2013

(ATTN: UPDATES with border crossings proceeding normally in last 3 paras)

SEOUL, March 30 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Saturday that inter-Korean relations have entered into a state of war and all cross-border issues will be dealt with in a wartime manner, the latest in a near-daily series of strident threats against the South in recent weeks.

"Situations on the Korean Peninsula, which are neither in peace nor at war, have come to an end," the North said in a special statement issued by the country's party, ministries and other institutions, according to the Korean Central News Agency.

Pyongyang has sharply ratcheted up belligerent rhetoric in recent weeks with repeated war threats against the South in anger over joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States as well as a new U.N. Security Council resolution adopted for its third nuclear test.

On Thursday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un put strategic rocket units on standby, threatening to strike targets in South Korea as well as U.S. bases in Hawaii and Guam. The move came a day after nuclear-capable U.S. B-2 stealth bombers participated in the joint military drill in the South.

Saturday's statement said Kim's "important decision" is an ultimatum to "hostile forces."

But the North stopped short of launching an actual attack immediately, saying its military is waiting for a final order by Kim. It added it would carry out merciless retaliation in case of any provocative acts by the U.S. or South Korea.

The North earlier said it would nullify the 1953 Armistice Agreement and all non-aggression pacts with the South. The two Koreas have remained technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict finished in a cease-fire, not a formal peace treaty.

Despite Pyongyang's latest threat, border crossings by South Koreans to and from the joint industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong proceeded normally, beginning with 78 people entering the complex at 8:30 a.m, Seoul's unification ministry said.

The North notified the South of its approval of the border crossings via the park's management committee earlier in the day, the ministry said. On Saturday, a total of 241 South Koreans were scheduled to travel to the factory park, with 510 people set to be coming back, it said.

The complex, where 123 South Korean companies run factories with cheap North Korean labor, is a major source of hard currency for the impoverished communist nation.

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