SEOUL, South Korea - Saber-rattling rose Monday to new levels on the Korean peninsula, as Pyongyang officials "scrapped" the armistice credited for nearly 60 years of uneasy peace and then failed to answer a hotline phone.
"The Korean Armistice Agreement is to be scrapped completely just from today," said a spokesman for the North Korean military -- the Korean People's Army Supreme Command -- according to Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party.
North Korea cited the U.N. Security Council's unanimous passage last Thursday of tougher sanctions against Pyongyang for carrying out missile and nuclear tests.
"The collective sanction is precisely a declaration of war and an act of war against the DPRK," said the newspaper, using the initials of North Korea's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
U.S.-South Korean drills
North Korea's announcement came as military drills involving South Korea and the United States were taking place. The exercises, called Key Resolve, are in conjunction with the Foal Eagle joint exercises that began March 1 and are scheduled to last two months. More than 3,000 U.S. forces are taking part in Key Resolve, according to United States Forces Korea.
North Korea also has called the annual training exercises "an open declaration of a war."
"Under the cloak of the UNSC, the U.S. seeks to realize its aggressive purpose against the DPRK by threatening its right to existence as well as its sovereignty," the newspaper continued. "What is graver is the fact that the U.S. cooked up the resolution on sanction timing to coincide with the 'Key Resolve' and 'Foal Eagle' joint military exercises."
The United Nations Command notified the North Korean military on February 21 of the exercise dates, noting that they are annual joint exercises that are defensive in nature and not related to current events on the Korean Peninsula.
Also Monday, North Korea did not answer its hotline with Seoul, South Korea's unification ministry said, according to the Yonhap news agency.
The ministry said the North did not answer two attempts to communicate by telephone at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. local time.
The military hotline was set up in 2004 with the goal of easing tensions along the heavily fortified border between South and North, the world's last Cold War frontier.
Last week, Pyongyang said it planned to terminate its military telephone line with the United States.
But Andre Kok, deputy public affairs officer for U.S. Forces in Korea, said reports that the North's Korean People's Army, known as the KPA, cut off communication often arise when military training exercises are taking place.
"When we place a call on the direct phone line and the KPA does not answer, we have no way of knowing if the KPA has actually disconnected the phone lines or are just not answering the phone," he said.
North Korea's nuclear warning
North Korea had previously warned it could carry out strikes against the United States and South Korea.
But analysts say North Korea is years away from having the technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile and aim it accurately at a target.
And, analysts say, North Korea is unlikely to seek a direct military conflict with the United States, preferring instead to try to gain traction through threats and the buildup of its military deterrent.
The Koreas are still technically at war because the 1950-53 war ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
In 2002, then-U.S. President George W. Bush labeled Pyongyang part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran.
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