North Korea warned Tuesday that a South Korean official would pay the dear price for saying the North "must disappear soon" in an escalation of rhetoric between the rivals.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok made the remark during a briefing Monday, after North Korea accused U.S. and South Korean authorities of fabricating the results of a probe that concluded Pyongyang sent small surveillance drones to spy on key South Korean installations in March while turning up the heat on a rhetorical battle between the rival Koreas.
Kim said that North Korea wasn't a real country and existed for the benefit of only one person — a reference to dictator Kim Jong Un. He said the North has no human rights or public freedoms.
North Korea's government-run Uriminzokkiri website on Tuesday called Kim's comments a "grave provocation," and said that the country would "mercilessly" punish anyone slandering its top leader and the system.
"We will not sit idle by while this mad dog keeps ... barking noisily," the website said. "Kim Min-seok would severely pay the price for his thoughtless remarks."
Kim's comments followed a series of slurs by North Korea against the leaders of South Korea and the United States.
South Korea has been highly critical of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, including recent rocket and missile tests and apparent preparations for a fourth nuclear test. But South Korea tries to avoid publicly talking about anything that could be interpreted as a collapse of the North Korean government because of worries that Pyongyang would raise tensions.
South Korea has called the North's verbal insults against Park immoral and unacceptable. The U.S. State Department described the North's racist slurs against Obama as "disgusting."
The escalation of tension is a marked change from earlier this year when analysts discerned a desire by Pyongyang to improve ties with Seoul to obtain aid and outside investment by agreeing to jump-start a stalled reunification program that would see families separated by the 1950–53 Korean War brought back together for a brief reunion.
Al Jazeera and wire services