SEOUL, South Korea >> North Korea vowed Friday to launch "retaliatory military actions" against South Korea, a threat that came days after Seoul said its military had used photos of Pyongyang’s ruling family for target practice.
The North’s fiery statement is part of a barrage of harsh rhetoric this week aimed at the conservative government of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who took office in 2008 with a harder line than his liberal predecessors.
Pyongyang sees "no need to sit face to face with the Lee group of traitors" and believes the only way to settle differences with Seoul is "by force of arms," the statement by an unidentified spokesman for the general staff of the North’s Korean People’s Army said.
"From now on," the statement said, the North "will launch practical and overall retaliatory military actions to wipe out the group of traitors at a stroke."
The North has regularly lashed out against Lee. Lee halted unconditional aid and linked South Korean assistance to progress in North Korea’s nuclear disarmament efforts. Pyongyang branded Lee "human scum" and a traitor to Korean reunification.
Friday’s statement made apparent reference to South Korean marines and some army units using pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, his son and heir-apparent Kim Jong Un, and his father, the North’s revered founder Kim Il Sung, as firing targets since the North’s deadly shelling of a South Korean border island in November. The South said Tuesday it would tell units to use only standard targets.
Kim Il Sung remains North Korea’s "eternal president" 17 years after his death, his beaming face on billboards, portraits and the small pins North Koreans wear affixed to their shirts and jackets.
North Korea said in its statement that South Korea had "staged such rowdyism as setting up a target and daring fire at it, a thrice-cursed criminal act of hurting the supreme dignity of" North Korea. It also mentioned alleged anti-North Korea propaganda in the South.
South Korea’s presidential Blue House had no comment, but close ally the United States criticized the statement.
"We are looking for North Korea to put relations with South Korea on a more positive track and that is clearly not in keeping with that," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told a news conference in Washington.
North Korea’s threats follow an attempt Wednesday to humiliate Lee.
Pyongyang claimed South Korea had begged for talks between the two countries’ leaders and offered "envelopes of cash." The North said it rejected the proposal for talks because Seoul leaked distorted information about a secret preparatory meeting in Beijing.
South Korea expressed regret over that statement, calling it a "unilateral claim that distorted our sincerity."
Animosity has run high between the Koreas since two deadly attacks blamed on North Korea last year. The North has denied involvement in the sinking of a warship in March that killed 46 South Korean sailors and argued that a November artillery barrage that killed four was provoked by South Korean firing drills.
Associated Press writers Ary Kim and Kelly Olsen in Seoul, and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.