(ATTN: RECASTS throughout with North Korea's possible missile launch)
SEOUL, Aug. 21 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye ordered South Korea's military to thoroughly and sternly retaliate against North Korea if provoked again, an official said Friday, as the North threatened to take military action against the South over an anti-Pyongyang propaganda campaign at the border.
"We can never tolerate any North Korean provocations that could endanger the safety of our soldiers and people," Park said during a surprise visit to the headquarters of the Third Army near Seoul.
She also instructed the military to maintain a tight readiness to immediately cope with any additional North Korean provocations, presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook told reporters.
North Korea has given a 48-hour ultimatum for South Korea to end the psychological warfare and dismantle its loudspeakers along the heavily fortified border, otherwise it will launch "a strong military action."
The communist country has bristled at South Korea's propaganda campaign amid concern that an influx of outside information could pose a threat to its leader Kim Jong-un.
South Korea has rejected the North's demand, stoking fears of yet another military clash between the two sides after they briefly exchanged artillery shells over the western section of their border on Thursday.
"South Korea will strongly retaliate against any kind of North Korean attacks and the North will have to take all the responsibility for such retaliative actions," Defense Minister Han Min-koo warned in a message sent to the North on Friday.
Kim has ordered front-line troops to have full combat readiness and front-line areas to be in a "semi-war state" starting at 5 p.m. on Friday, according to the North's state media.
South Korea resumed psychological warfare on Aug. 10 in retaliation for a recent landmine attack that left two South Korean soldiers severely injured.
South Korea accused the North of planting the mines inside the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas, a charge denied by North Korea.
Separately, North Korea seems to be gearing up to fire missiles, an official said, a move that could be seen as a show of force against South Korea amid escalating tensions.
"The North is showing signs of shooting off a Scud missile near Wonsan and a Rodong missile in North Pyongan Province," the official said, citing detection results of its joint radar system with the United States.
Meanwhile, South Korea said it has measures to ensure the safety of its nationals who are temporarily staying in the North.
It said it has put a partial ban on the entry of its nationals into an inter-Korean joint factory park in the North's western border city of Kaesong.
The factory park, the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, is home to 120 small South Korean factories producing garments, shoes, watches and other labor-intensive goods. More than 54,000 North Koreans work in the complex.
(LEAD) S. Korea to provide loans worth 100 tln won to innovative firms, SMEs
Samsung to launch first 5G smartphone on April 5
Preorders of BTS' new album surpass 2.6 mln copies
(LEAD) U.S., N.K. trying to get 'sequencing' right in nuclear talks: Pompeo
Actress Park Han-byul apologizes for husband's involvement in growing sex scandal
N.K. official heads to Vladivostok after Moscow visit
(LEAD) Dozens of S. Korean officials head to joint liaison office after N. Korea's abrupt pullout
U.N. grants sanctions exemption for humanitarian aid to N. Korea
N.K. denounces Seoul over slow progress in implementing inter-Korean deals
N. Korean media keeps silence on pullout from liaison office for 3rd day