South Korea vows fast response to North

The US deploys stealth jets and South Korea vows to strike back at the North.

Park Geun-Hye, the daughter of assassinated dictator Park Chung-Hee, speaks after she was elected as a presidential candidate during a national convention of the New Frontier Party for a presidential primary in Goyang, north of Seoul, on August 20, 2012. Picture: AFP.

SEOUL - South Korea will strike back quickly if the North stages any attack on its territory, the new president in Seoul warned on Monday, as tensions ratcheted higher on the Korean peninsula amid shrill rhetoric from Pyongyang and the US deployment of radar-evading fighter planes.

North Korea says the region is on the brink of a nuclear war in the wake of United Nations sanctions imposed for its February nuclear test and a series of joint US and South Korean military drills that have included a rare US show of aerial power.

North Korea said on Saturday it was entering a "state of war" with South Korea in response to what it termed the "hostile" military drills being staged in the South. But there have been no signs of unusual activity in the North's military to suggest an imminent aggression, a South Korean defence ministry official said last week.

"If there is any provocation against South Korea and its people, there should be a strong response in initial combat without any political considerations," President Park Geun-hye told the defence minister and senior officials at a meeting on Monday.

The South has changed its rules of engagement to allow local units to respond immediately to attacks, rather than waiting for permission from Seoul.

Stung by criticism that its response to the shelling of a South Korean island in 2010 was tardy and weak, Seoul has also threatened to target North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and to destroy statues of the ruling Kim dynasty in the event of any new attack, a plan that has outraged Pyongyang.

Seoul and its ally the United States played down Saturday's statement from the official KCNA news agency as the latest in a stream of tough talk from Pyongyang.

North Korea stepped up its rhetoric in early March, when US and South Korean forces began annual military drills that involved the flights of US B-2 stealth bombers in a practice run, prompting the North to puts its missile units on standby to fire at US military bases in the South and in the Pacific.

The United States also deployed F-22 stealth fighter jets on Sunday to take part in the drills. The F-22s were deployed in South Korea before, in 2010.

On its part, North Korea has cancelled an armistice agreement with the United States that ended the Korean War and cut all hotlines with US forces, the United Nations and South Korea.