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North Korea Threatens to Attack South, Calls Truce Ending Korean War Invalid

North Korea threatened military action Wednesday against U.S. and South Korean warships plying the waters near the Koreas' disputed maritime border, raising the specter of a naval clash just days after the regime's underground nuclear test. Video by AP

Government officials said North Korean ships will continue to be allowed safe passage in South Korean waters, according to Yonhap, the South Korean news agency.

Only ships suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction will be targets of inspections, the officials said.

South Korea, though, has stepped up its surveillance of North Korea and increased its military readiness, according to a statement Wednesday night from the Defense Ministry. It said that U.S. and South Korean forces "will restrain additional North Korean provocation and manage the current situation towards stability, yet respond firmly to North Korea's possible military provocation." About 28,500 U.S. troops are in South Korea.

Analysts in Seoul said they regarded North Korea's warnings as serious but doubted the willingness of Kim to provoke a large-scale confrontation.

"The problem is that both sides cannot afford to make a concession," said Dong Yong-seung, a senior fellow at the North Korean division of Samsung Economic Research Institute. "It is like a game of chicken."

Andrei Lankov, a professor at Seoul's Kookmin University who has written several books about North Korea, said, "Small-scale shooting is possible and even probable, but nothing more serious than that."

"The location of mansions where Pyongyang's leaders enjoy their Hennessy cognac is well known to the American military, and North Koreans know the precision of U.S. cruise missiles," Lankov said. "The North will steer clear of any action which might lead to a real confrontation."

Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations and special correspondent Stella Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.

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