North Korea Severs All Ties With South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea declared it would cut all ties with South Korea in response to its blaming of the communist country for the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship, as tensions on the divided peninsula spiked to their highest level in a decade.
The dramatic deterioration in ties came as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Seoul on Wednesday for talks expected to focus on how to deal with North Korea.
The North's announcement late Tuesday came hours after South Korea began taking steps that were seen as among the strongest it could implement short of military action – ranging from slashing trade, resuming propaganda warfare and barring the North's cargo ships.
Tensions have risen since last week, when a team of international investigators concluded that a torpedo from a North Korean submarine tore apart the Cheonan warship off the west coast on March 26, killing 46 South Korean sailors.
The North flatly denies involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan, one of the South's worst military disasters since the Korean War, and has warned that retaliation would mean war.
North Korea is cutting all ties with the South until President Lee Myung-bak leaves office in early 2013, the country's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification, which handles relations with South Korea, said in a statement.
It also said North Korea would expel all South Korean government officials working at a joint industrial park in the northern border town of Kaesong, and South Korean ships and airliners would be banned from passing through its territory.
North Korea would start "all-out counterattacks" against the South's psychological warfare operations. Pyongyang called its moves "the first phase" of punitive measures against Seoul, suggesting more action could follow.
South Korea's military said Wednesday there were no signs of unusual activity by North Korean troops. At least two cross-border communication links were operating normally on Wednesday morning, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.

Four North Korean submarines, however, have disappeared from South Korean radar since they left their eastern coastal base Thursday, the mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported citing an unidentified Seoul official.
The paper said South Korea's military was trying to track down the location of the submarines, but the Joint Chiefs of Staff said it could not confirm the report.
Earlier Tuesday, a Seoul-based monitoring agency reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il ordered the country's 1.2 million-member military to get ready for combat. South Korean officials could not immediately confirm the report. North Korea often issues fiery rhetoric and regularly vows to wage war against South Korea and the United States.
South Korea wants to bring North Korea before the U.N. Security Council over the sinking, and has U.S. support.
Clinton arrived in Seoul after wrapping up two days of intense strategic and economic talks with China, which responded coolly to U.S. appeals that it support international action against North Korea over the warship sinking.
The North and South have technically remained at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
The U.S. and South Korea are planning two major military exercises off the Korean peninsula in a display of force intended to deter future aggression by North Korea, the White House said. The U.S. has 28,500 troops in South Korea.
Relations are at their lowest point since a decade ago, when South Korea began reaching out to the North with unconditional aid as part of reconciliation efforts. Lee has taken a harder line since taking office in 2008, and the South has suspended aid.
Associated Press writers Sangwon Yoon and Matthew Lee in Seoul, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.
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