Bomber run imperils reunions plan: N Korea

February 07, 2014 - 8:04:44 am
SEOUL:  A nuclear-capable US B-52 bomber sortie over South Korea has endangered plans for reunions between families from the North and South of the country and risks triggering a further escalation of military tension, North Korea said yesterday.

North Korea said a flight by the nuclear-capable B-52 took place off the west coast of the Korean peninsula on Wednesday.

A US military spokeswoman said she could not discuss details of specific missions, adding: “The US Pacific Command has maintained a rotational strategic bomber presence in the region for more than a decade.”

A South Korean military source told the Yonhap news agency that the flight was a training sortie involving a single aircraft. The North’s National Defence Commission, the country’s top military body, said in a statement read on state television, that it was a rehearsal for a nuclear attack.

“At the time when the agreement was made on reunions of separated families and relatives at Panmunjom, a formation of US B-52 strategic bombers from Guam was carrying out nuclear strike practices over Korea’s west sea, aiming at us,” a spokesman for the Commission was quoted as saying.

In a rare confidence-building move, the two Koreas agreed on Wednesday, in talks at the border village of Panmunjom, to allow families still divided by the 1950-53 Korean War to meet for five days in late February for the first time since 2010. 

South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said it would be “regrettable” and would hurt separated families if North Korea did not go ahead with the reunions as agreed in response to the flight.

A sharp escalation of tension between the North and South in early 2013 triggered threats by the North of a nuclear strike on South Korea, Japan, the US South Pacific territory of Guam and even the continental United States. Washington responded with B-2 and B-52 flights over South Korea.  Both aircraft can carry nuclear weapons.

The North has made a diplomatic push to try and halt US and South Korean drills that are regularly staged at this time of year, although the South said yesterday the drills would go ahead as planned. Hazel Smith, a North Korea expert at Britain’s University of Central Lancashire said she expected North Korea to respond to the sortie.                 Reuters