REPORTING FROM TOKYO -– After months of relatively eased tensions, the Korean peninsula is again living up to its reputation as home to the world’s most anxious borders with new rhetorical provocations from Pyongyang.
On Thursday, Kim Jong-il’s aggressive regime claimed it would turn Seoul's presidential palace office into a "sea of fire," according to a state-run media outlet in the North Korean capital.
The verbal jousting came one day after South Korea conducted massive air and sea drills near a front-line island that was attacked by North Korea last year, resulting in the deaths of two marines and two construction workers.
At precisely the same time as North Korea’s attack last Nov. 23 on a military garrison and fishing community on Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea, the South Korean military Wednesday launched a large-scale exercise involving attack helicopters, multi-rocket launchers, artillery and a flotilla of ships.
Seoul called the 2010 Yeonpyeong Island attack the first on a civilian area since the 1950-53 Korean War.
In language similar to that used by the official Korean Central News Agency, North Korea threatened that a similar "sea of fire" will engulf Seoul's presidential Blue House if the south again fires into North Korean territory.
The north claims that the South Korean military fired into its waters last year, prompting November’s retaliatory attack.
In response, South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Jung Seung-jo said his forces would "crush the enemy" if they strike again.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Wednesday told southern military commanders he was dismayed that North Korea has not apologized for last year’s shelling, adding that the regime must explain its actions for relations to improve.
The 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island followed the springtime sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors. Pyongyang denies involvement in the sinking.
-- John M. Glionna
Photo: South Korea's navy ships are anchored near Yeonpyeong Island. Credit: Lee Jin-man / Associated Press