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Seoul urges N. Korea to tone down rhetoric

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  • South Korean government urges North Korea to moderate rhetoric
  • North Korea has threatened to turn South Korea into "ashes"
  • In the last few days, North Korea has expelled 11 South Korean officials
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SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- The South Korean government urged North Korea to tone down the rhetoric Wednesday after days of escalating tension between the two nations.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has said he will ask more in exchange for aid to the North.

In the last few days, North Korea has expelled 11 South Korean officials from a jointly run industrial complex, fired a barrage of short-range missiles and warned of "catastrophic consequences" as a result of what it views as pro-U.S. South Korean policies. North Korea also has threatened to turn South Korea into "ashes."

The actions come in apparent response to a tougher stance toward North Korea by South Korean President Lee Myong-bak, who took office in late February, an analyst told CNN.

"They've stopped short of going to the brink because they want to give the impression that they really don't want to change the whole template," said the analyst, Lee Chung-min of Yonsei University in Seoul. "They just want to sound out exactly how far Lee Myong-bak will go in changing his North Korean policy."

The two countries have technically remained in a state of war since the Korean War ended in 1953, although relations have warmed somewhat in the last eight years. The Korean conflict ended in an armistice, but no formal peace treaty was ever signed.

Leaders of the two nations held an historic summit in 2000, paving the way for the reunification of some families who were separated during the war. A second summit followed in October 2007, but concerns over North Korea's nuclear program have loomed over interactions between the two countries.

The new South Korean president, Lee, promises a tougher stance toward North Korea -- and his views appear to have triggered North Korea's response.

On March 27, North Korea expelled 11 South Korean officials from a joint industrial park in Kaesong, North Korea. That move came after South Korea's unification minister said it would be hard to expand the park without North Korean progress on de-nuclearization. The next day, North Korea fired a barrage of missiles.

Then state-run television in North Korea warned that it would turn parts of South Korean into "ashes" in the event of a pre-emptive South Korean strike on its nuclear sites.

That threat came in apparent response to comments from a senior South Korean military official that South Korea would attack suspected nuclear weapons sites in North Korea if the north tried to attack the South with atomic bombs.

On Wednesday, South Korea's state-run Yonhap news agency urged the north "to halt its recent verbal attacks against the administration of Lee Myung-bak, one day after the communist nation called the South Korean president a 'traitor.'"

The South Korean Defense Ministry said North Korea "was intentionally interpreting Seoul's objectives and remarks by its officials in a malicious manner," Yonhap reported.

Analysts say North Korea may back away from reuniting families divided by the Korean War and may also make provocative military moves.


So what do people in South Korea make of the tension?

"I'm not that worried," a businessman told CNN. "I don't think the North Koreans are looking to do anything special." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Sohn Jie-ae contributed to this report

All About South KoreaNorth KoreaNuclear Proliferation

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