Soon after South Korea announced their annual military drills, North Korea's military issued a warning statement.
Pyongyang, North Korea
North Korea will launch "merciless" strikes if South Korea goes through with planned live-fire drills near their disputed sea border, a North Korean officer said Sunday, amid persistent tension on the divided peninsula.
North Korea doesn't want a war but its people are always ready to "dedicate their blood to defend their inviolable territory," officer Sin Chol Ung at the North's Korean People's Security Forces told The Associated Press.
"We are monitoring every movement by the South Korean warmongers. If they provoke us, there will be only merciless retaliatory strikes," Sin said.
South Korea will stage regular one-day artillery drills Monday from front-line islands off the western coast, including one shelled by North Korea in 2010, according to Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff. It said South Korea informed North Korea of its training plan on Sunday.
Soon after, the North's military issued a statement warning of the strikes and urging all civilians living or working on the islands to evacuate before the drills start.
"Such move of the warlike forces is a premeditated military provocation ... to drive the overall situation on the Korean peninsula into the phase of war," a North Korean western military command said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
The North frequently issues similar rhetoric against South Korea, but the latest warning comes as ties between the Koreas remain tense following the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in December.
South Korea has barred all of its citizens, except for two private delegations, from visiting to pay respects to Kim, and North Korea has vowed to retaliate.