Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

S. Korea president takes tough stand on N. Korea

S. Korean President Park Geun-hye has vowed to take further ‘strong’ measures against the North

South Korean President Park Geun-hye pledged on Tuesday further "strong" measures against North Korea, after suspending operations at a jointly run industrial park as punishment for the North's recent long-range rocket launch and nuclear test.

North Korea's recent actions, and threats to conduct more "extreme acts of provocation," demonstrate that it has no interest in peace, Park said in a speech to parliament.

She warned that rival North Korea faces collapse if it doesn't abandon its nuclear bomb program, an unusually strong broadside that will likely infuriate Pyongyang.

"The suspension of the Kaesong industrial zone is only the start of a series of actions we will be taking together with the international community," she said.

"The government will take strong and effective measures for the North to come to the bone-numbing realization that nuclear development will not help its survival but rather it will only speed up the collapse of the regime," she said.

Without elaborating, Park said the North has diverted much of the Seoul payments to North Korean workers at the factory park to the Pyongyang leadership, which is in charge of nuclear and missile development. She also said the South has sent more than $3 billion in government and civilian aid to the North since mid-1990s.

Much of the aid was made when South Korea was governed by back-to-back liberal governments seeking rapprochement with North Korea from 1998 to 2003, according to her office. Park said South Korea must not provide few-strings-attached large-scale aid to North Korea "like in the past."

She called for support for her government amid a divide in South Korea about its tough response to North Korea. "Aiming the point of a sword back to us and splitting us up are something that must not take place," she said.

South Korea's main liberal opposition party has criticized the government's decision to suspend operations at Kaesong, saying the measure will hurt only South Korean businessmen and deepen tensions with North Korea. Liberal lawmakers also said the Kaesong shutdown is not effective because North Korea maintains economic ties with China and Russia.

South Korea suspended the operation of the Kaesong industrial zone last week, which had been run jointly with the North for more than a decade and was a key source of hard currency for the impoverished North, as punishment for Pyongyang's rocket launch on Feb. 7.

North Korea responded by expelling all South Koreans from the industrial zone, and called the South’s move to suspend operations “an act of war.”

Seoul and the United States said the launch was in fact a test of a long-range missile that violated U.N. Security Council resolutions. The North said the launch was part of its scientific program designed to launch satellites into space.

Washington and Seoul are seeking support from Beijing, Pyongyang's main ally, for tougher sanctions against North Korea for the rocket launch and January's nuclear test.

South Korea is on heightened alert for any kind of "extreme actions" Pyongyang might take, Park said, asking for bipartisan support. She also warned against using the increased tension for political purposes, "which would be exactly what the North would want to see."

It is unusual for a top South Korean official to publicly touch upon such a government collapse in North Korea because of worries about how sensitive North Korea is to talk of its authoritarian government losing power. Pyongyang has long accused Washington and Seoul of agitating for its collapse.

Park's speech contained harsh language, describing North Korea as "merciless" and under an "extreme reign of terror" following recent purges of top officials that outside analysts say were aimed at bolstering leader Kim Jong Un's grip on power. Park also referred to Kim by his name several times when she criticized his government, something many Seoul leaders have avoided in the hopes of improved ties with Pyongyang.

Park's comments are likely to anger North Korea as they were made as the country marks the birthday of late dictator Kim Jong Il, the father of Kim Jong Un.

Wire services

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