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North Korea Puts Artillery Forces on High Alert, Threatens US

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SEOUL, South Korea) -- North Korea said on Tuesday it has moved strategic rocket and artillery units into top combat position in preparation for a strike against the U.S.

In a statement released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea said, "From this moment, the Supreme Command of the Korean People's Army will be putting in combat duty posture No. 1 all field artillery units including long-range artillery strategic rocket units that will target all enemy objects in U.S. invasionary bases on its mainland, Hawaii and Guam."

The United States recently engaged in long-planned joint military exercises in the region.  Also, the U.S. and South Korea on Friday signed a military pact providing for a joint response to even low-level provocation from the North.

The move was predicted by analysts to provoke the North, and state news on Monday released photos of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, inspecting People's Army Unit 1501.

In response to the KCNA statement on Tuesday, South Korea's Presidential Office downplayed the threat.

"We have not detected any special movements in the North Korean military," the office said.

Kim Yong Hyun, a professor of North Studies at Dong Guk University in Seoul, said North Korea's statement "doesn't mean that they will conduct some sort of military attack right away.  They are elevating the crisis situation with the harshest rhetoric as possible."

North Korea has made similar statements in the past but has not included the term "No.1" until now.  South Korean military experts are analyzing what that might mean.

The most recent statement comes amid escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula.  North Korea carried out an underground nuclear test on Feb. 12.  It successfully tested in December a long-range rocket capable of hitting the United States.  Both actions led to a U.N. resolution toughening sanctions against the reclusive regime.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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