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North Korea makes fresh threats to US mainland

North Korea has said its artillery is combat ready to strike the US mainland, Hawaii and Guam, as well as South Korea. The threats come days after the US and Seoul inked a new military deal amid joint naval exercises.

North Korea's military said Tuesday that its artillery forces are at their highest-level combat position in its latest threat to attack South Korea and the US.

"All artillery troops including strategic rocket units and long-range artillery units are to be placed under class-A combat readiness," the Korean People's Army supreme command said in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The units should be prepared to attack "all US military bases in the Asia-Pacific region, including the US mainland, Hawaii and Guam" and South Korea, the statement said.

However, South Korea's defense ministry said it saw no signs of unusual activity by the North's military but will monitor the situation. The US and South Korea are currently running joint military drills that end April 30, which they have stressed are strictly defensive.

Despite a successful long-range rocket launch in December, the North is not believed to have the capability to hit the US mainland with an atomic weapon. However, US military bases in the Pacific area are in range of its medium-range missiles.

The threats came days after the South Korean and US militaries signed a new pact, which outlined a joint military response to low-level provocative action by North Korea.

While existing agreements provide for US engagement in the event of a full-scale conflict, the new agreement addresses the response to a limited provocation such as cross-border shelling.

It guarantees US support for any South Korean response and allows Seoul to request any additional US military force necessary.

Ceaseless threats

Tensions have been heightened in the region for months since North Korea conducted its third nuclear test last month. The United Nations Security Council responded by imposing fresh sanctions on the communist state.

The sanctions enraged the North, which has spent the past month issuing increasingly threatening statements about unleashing nuclear attacks.

The US has a long-standing commitment to protect South Korea, which technically remains at war with the North despite a decades-old ceasefire that ended fighting between the two countries in 1953. The US has more than 28,000 soldiers stationed in South Korea.

The statement also coincided with the third anniversary of the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel that killed 46 sailors. Seoul insists the attack was from a North Korean submarine, however Pyongyang has denied any involvement.

hc/dr (AFP, AP)