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Kim Jong-Un Threatens To 'Wipe Out' Island
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has threatened to "wipe out" a South Korean island as diplomatic tensions between the neighbouring countries escalate.
The communist state has been making noises about nuclear war in response to UN sanctions imposed after its third atomic test last month.
It has also announced its unilateral shredding of the 60-year-old Korean War armistice and non-aggression pacts with Seoul in protest at an ongoing South Korean-US military exercise.
While most of these statements have been dismissed as rhetorical bluster, the latest threat to the border island of Baengnyeong, which has around 5,000 civilian residents, appears credible and carries the weight of precedent.
In 2010, the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan was sunk in the area of Baengnyeong with the loss of 46 lives, and later that year North Korea shelled the nearby island of Yeonpyeong, killing four people.
On a visit to frontline artillery units, Kim Jong-Un briefed officers on their mission "to strike and wipe out the enemies" on Baengnyeong and turn the island into a "sea of fire".
"Once an order is issued, you should break the waists of the crazy enemies, totally cut their windpipes and thus clearly show them what a real war is like," Kim was quoted as saying by the Korean Central News Agency.
The leader toured military facilities with officers and was photographed holding a guitar during talks, before departing the Wolnae Islet defence unit in a wooden boat.
An administrative official on Baengnyeong, Kim Young-Gu, said civilian emergency shelters on the island had been fully stocked and all village councils put on high alert.
"It's not like there's a mass exodus of panicked islanders to the mainland. But to be honest with you, we're a bit scared," he told AFP.
The disputed sea border off the west coast was the scene of deadly naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and 2009.
Residents on a number of frontline islands have reportedly taken to sleeping in their clothes in preparation for a night-time alert.
The crisis represents an early test for South Korea's new President Park Geun-Hye, who was sworn in only two weeks ago, with concerns about just how far the inexperienced Kim Jong-Un is willing to go.
Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said: "If the North provokes us, we will respond in ways that will cause them more harm."
The United States has risked further provoking Kim by slapping sanctions on North Korea's primary foreign exchange bank and four senior officials.
Past sanctions have failed to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programme, but the international community hopes measures targeting financial lifelines can slow down the process and curb proliferation.