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N Korea at crossroads

South Korea vows to retaliate against any North military action

Seoul says it can no longer tolerate personal attacks on President Moon Jae-in

South Korean K-55 self-propelled howitzers are loaded onto vehicles in Paju, near the border with North Korea, on Wednesday. North Korea said it will redeploy troops to now-shuttered inter-Korean tourism and economic sites near the border.   © AP

SEOUL -- South Korea vowed Wednesday to retaliate against any North Korea military action after Pyongyang threatened to send troops into border areas.

"The North will pay the price for any military actions," Major General Jeon Dong-jin of South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters. "We are monitoring North Korean forces' movements around the clock. We keep a firm military readiness and will continue to make efforts to stop military tensions from escalating."

North Korean state media reported early Wednesday that the isolated nation plans to deploy troops to protect two areas near the border that had previously been developed by both countries -- the Mt. Kumgang Tourism Complex and the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The Korean Central News Agency said soldiers will be sent back to guard posts inside the Demilitarized Zone, violating a military agreement signed by the two Koreas in 2018.

The tensions come a day after North Korea demolished the two Koreas' joint liaison office in the border city of Kaesong, in retaliation for the South allowing activists to send leaflets and other propaganda material into the North. The move was a further blow to South Korea President Moon Jae-in's drive for reconciliation between the two countries that are still technically at war.

The presidential Blue House on Wednesday broke its silence on the issue, saying that it would no longer tolerate North Korean insulting Moon.

Yoon Do-han, a senior communications secretary of Moon, said that North Korea's statement is hurting trust between Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"We solemnly warn that we will not tolerate the North's nonsense words anymore," Yoon told reporters. "Such words do not help the North. We hope that the North will use basic etiquette from now."

Later Wednesday, South Korea's Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul offered his resignation to take responsibility for the worsening inter-Korean relations. "I am sorry that I could not meet people's expectation for peace on the Korean Peninsula," Kim told reporters at the ministry's press room.

The two Koreas have technically been at war for decades because the Korean War that ended in 1953 was halted by an armistice, rather than a peace treaty.

The current standoff is a blow for Moon's flagship policy of reconciliation with the North. The liaison office was established in September 2018 during a year of unprecedented warm relations between the countries that saw Moon meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un three times.

Inter-Korean relations have chilled since February 2019 when denuclearization talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim collapsed in Hanoi. North Korea demanded that the South take actions for economic projects agreed in 2018, but Seoul refused to do so due to the U.N. sanctions.

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