SEOUL, March 21 (Yonhap) -- North Korea issued air raid alerts as part of a one-hour civil defense drill on Thursday, the country's state media outlet said, as inter-Korean tensions are mounting over military drills on both sides of the peninsula and the North's suspected role in the massive hacking into South Korean media and banks.
In a separate move, the North's military has repeatedly threatened to use its nuclear weapons against the United States, leveling criticism at the participation of U.S. bombers and nuclear submarines in a joint military drill with South Korea on the peninsula earlier this week.
Korean Central Television, a TV and radio station, said the country's armed forces broadcaster issued the alert at 9:30 a.m. and ordered military personnel and civilians to take cover. The original message called on the armed forces to take swift countermeasures to reduce damage before officially sounding the alert at 10:30 a.m.
The station did not say if an attack is under way or if one is expected, a clear indication that it was a drill. The North has carried out similar annual air raid drills in the 1990s, and ordered blackouts during nighttime exercises.
Other news outlets such as the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and Chosun Central TV did not report on the alert.
South Korea's military confirmed the North had carried out a drill.
"The drill may be in response to the earlier deployment of a U.S. B-52 bomber over South Korea," an officer at the Joint Chief of Staff said. He added that the alert is similar to civil defense air raid drills carried out by Seoul. B-52s from Guam operated over the Korean Peninsula on March 8 and on Tuesday as part of the joint South Korea-U.S. Key Resolve exercise.
He speculated that the air raid alert was sounded to show the civilian population and the military that the country was engaged in a standoff with foreign aggressors.
Reflecting this view, North Korea's military high command said in a report carried by the KCNA earlier in the day that Pyongyang has to respond to provocations like the use of B-52 bombers and the arrival of the U.S.S. Cheyenne, a Los Angeles class nuclear-powered attack submarine, in South Korea.
"Now the U.S. started open nuclear blackmail and threats, the DPRK too will move to take corresponding military action," the statement stressed. It pointed out that Pyongyang "will react to the nukes of the enemy with a nuclear attack more powerful than theirs, and this is by no means empty talk." DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.
The military said Washington should not forget that the Anderson Air Force Base in Guam where the B-52 took off from and naval bases in Japan proper and Okinawa, which are used by U.S. submarines, are within striking distance from the North.
A unification ministry official, meanwhile, speculated that the drill may have been aimed at raising public awareness of tensions on the Korean Peninsula caused by the Feb. 12 detonation of a nuclear device by the North.
He also said that the North carried out air raid warning exercises, although it is rare for them to be announced on the radio.
"In the past they used the nationwide cable broadcasting link to issue such alerts," he said.
He stressed that it is time for the North to give up any plans and resist the temptation to commit further provocations. Instead, the communist country should make the right choice to ease tensions.
"If the country makes right choices, Seoul is ready to begin the bilateral trust building process," he said.
The new Park Geun-hye administration that took office late last month has embraced a "trustpolitik" doctrine to normalize inter-Korean relations that have been rocked by uncertainties in the past.
The doctrine calls for the building of mutual respect by keeping all promises to create more stable relations. Such developments can spur greater economic cooperation between the two Koreas and benefit all sides.
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