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Seoul (AFP) March 8, 2013
North Korean television broadcast emotional scenes Friday of cheering soldiers and their young families greeting leader Kim Jong-Un as he visited a frontline unit that shelled the South in 2010.
With tensions surging on the Korean peninsula, Kim said the North's military was "fully ready to fight a Korean style all-out war," as he visited two islands close to the disputed maritime border on Thursday, state media said.
Footage of the visit showed him being greeted by chanting troops who were held back as they surged towards him. Their families brought their children to meet him, with one woman encouraging her daughter forward for a hug.
At the end of the trip, the soldiers ran down to the beach and waded chest deep into the freezing water clutching at Kim's motor launch as it moved away.
The tour coincided with an outpouring of vitriol from Pyongyang over UN sanctions imposed for its nuclear test last month, with the North threatening pre-emptive nuclear strikes on the US and its allies, and vowing to rip up peace pacts with South Korea.
Speaking to troops stationed on the islands, Kim said the slightest provocation would result in his immediate order for a "great advance" along the entire frontline with the South, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
On Mu island he inspected artillery units that shelled the nearby South Korean island of Yeonpyeong in November 2010, killing four people and triggering an exchange of fire that sparked fears of a full-blown conflict.
State television showed Kim inspecting the craters left by South artillery shells on the island in what he described as the "most gratifying" battle since the end of the Korean war in 1953.
The television footage showed him with binoculars looking across at Yeonpyeong island and apparently discussing target selection with the artillery officers.
"He reconfirmed in detail reinforced fire power strike means and targets of the enemy deployed on five islets," including Yeonpyeong island and "defined the order of precision strikes" on those targets, KCNA said.
Kim was accompanied on his tour by top members of the North Korean leadership, including political commissar Choe Ryong-Hae and Defence Minister Kim Kyok-Sik.
N. Korea says sanctions will boost its nuclear deterrent
In a statement carried by state media, the ministry said the latest sanctions, which Pyongyang "totally rejects", would only lead the country to reinforce its status "as a nuclear weapons state and satellite launcher".
Even before Thursday's Security Council vote imposing tougher sanctions on Pyongyang over its nuclear test last month, the North Korean leadership had said it would conduct more atomic and long-range missile tests in the future.
The North's nuclear test in February was its largest yet in terms of apparent yield, but outside monitors have been unable to confirm the North's claim that it had successfully detonated a miniaturised device.
Experts are split on whether North Korea has the ability to fit a warhead on a rocket, although there is general agreement that it is years from developing a genuine inter-continental ballistic missile.
The foreign ministry statement said that the latest UN sanctions, instead of weakening North Korea's nuclear deterrent, would only increase its capability "a thousand times", according to the Korean Central News Agency.
Pointing to a series of sanctions "cooked up" by the UN over the past eight years, the ministry said they had only resulted in North Korea "bolstering its nuclear deterrent qualitatively and quantitatively".
But there were no signs that such actions were imminent, analysts say.
"The North will wait and see how the United States implements the sanctions, which will take a while," said professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
"In the meantime, China (the North's sole major ally) is likely to move to have diplomacy back to work," he told AFP.
China, which backed the UN resolution, has urged "relevant parties to exercise calm and restraint, and avoid actions that might further escalate tensions", describing the situation as "highly complex and sensitive".
Even though China endorsed the punishment at the UN Security Council, its foreign minister said Saturday that sanctions against the isolated state were not "the fundamental way" to resolve the crisis.
"We always believe that sanctions are not the end of Security Council actions, nor are sanctions the fundamental way to resolve the relevant issues", Yang Jiechi told reporters in Beijing.
Yoo Ho-Yeol, a political science professor at Korea University in Seoul, said the tone of the latest North Korea statement was relatively moderate, especially compared with the one issued by the same ministry on Thursday.
In an outpouring of warlike rhetoric prior to the Security Council meeting, the ministry threatened a "pre-emptive" nuclear strike against the United States and and all other "aggressors".
At that time it also warned a second Korean war was "unavoidable", with both the United States and South Korea refusing Pyongyang's demands to cancel a large-scale joint military exercise next week.
Both South and North Korea are expected to stage military exercises next week, fuelling concerns that the current high tensions may trigger a border incident that could escalate into something more serious.
Pyongyang has vowed to scrap -- effective Monday -- the 1953 armistice agreement that ended Korean war hostilities, as well as bilateral non-aggression pacts signed with South Korea.
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