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South Korea on alert after North's statement

/ Source: The Associated Press

South Korea said its army remained on alert Sunday, a day after North Korea threatened military action in response to Seoul's hard-line stance against its communist regime.

The latest harsh rhetoric from the isolated regime could be a test for Barack Obama days before he is sworn in as the new U.S. president, an analyst said.

The North's Korean People's Army called South Korea's president a "traitor" and accused him of preparing a military provocation, according to a statement carried Saturday by the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Pyongyang said it was adopting "an all-out confrontational posture" and warned of a "strong military retaliatory step." South Korea immediately put its forces on alert.

Military will remain on alert
A Defense Ministry official said Sunday the South's military will remain on alert, though there were no unusual moves by the North's forces. The official spoke on condition of anonymity citing department policy.

The North has issued similar threats in the past in anger over hard-line policies that South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has implemented since taking office last year. Lee ended previous administrations' unconditional aid to North Korea, and Seoul also co-sponsored a U.N. resolution denouncing the regime's human rights record.

South Korea denies taking a confrontational stance and has repeatedly called for dialogue with the North.

Analysts said the North's latest saber rattling appears to be a negotiating tactic aimed at Seoul and Washington ahead of Tuesday's inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

"North Korea wants to draw Obama's attention," said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University.

Aid for disarmament
Kim said Pyongyang is trying to use heightened tension and instability on the Korean peninsula to make a case for its long-standing demand for a peace treaty and establishment of diplomatic ties with Washington — the regime's top foreign policy goal.

South Korea, the U.S. and three other nations have sought to coax North Korea — which detonated an atomic device in 2006 — to give up its nuclear program by offering aid for disarmament. The pact has been deadlocked over how to verify North Korea's past nuclear activities.

The two Koreas have been separated one of the world's most heavily armed borders since a three-year war ended in a truce in 1953.

Ties warmed significantly following the first-ever summit of their leaders in 2000, but the reconciliation process came to a halt after Seoul's conservative, pro-U.S. President Lee came to power last year.