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North Korea threatens to reduce South Korea's government 'to ashes'

North Korea's military has threatened to reduce South Korea’s conservative government "to ashes" in "three or four minutes" – an escalation of its recent belligerent language.

It vowed Monday to launch unspecified "special actions" of "unprecedented peculiar means," an unusually specific warning.


North Korea regularly criticizes Seoul and just last week renewed its promise to wage a "sacred war," saying South Korean President Lee Myung-bak had insulted the North's April 15 celebrations of the birth centennial of national founder Kim Il Sung.

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Its latest threat follows U.N. condemnation of North Korea's launch of a long-range rocket that exploded shortly after liftoff April 13. Washington, Seoul and others called the launch a cover for testing long-range missile technology. Pyongyang said the launch was meant to put a satellite into orbit.

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The North's special actions "will reduce all the rat-like groups and the bases for provocations to ashes in three or four minutes, (or) in much shorter time, by unprecedented peculiar means and methods of our own style," according to the statement by the special operation action group of the Korean People's Army's Supreme Command.

Elizabeth Dalziel / AP

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Terrorist attacks?
Some South Korean analysts speculated the North's statement was meant to unnerve Seoul; others that the North could be planning terrorist attacks.

It seemed unlikely that North Korea would launch a large-scale military attack against Seoul, which is backed by nearly 30,000 U.S. troops stationed in the South, said Kim Young-soo, a professor at Sogang University in Seoul.

However, Dr. Cheon Seong-whun, of the Korean Institute for National Unification, told NBC News that he "wouldn’t be surprised if the North takes some military actions against the South soon given the concrete words announced by the North today.”   

“I believe the North’s statements have passed the rhetoric stage,” he added.

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The North's latest threat, which was carried by its state media, comes amid rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, with both Koreas recently unveiling new missiles.

The animosity has prompted worries that North Korea may conduct a new nuclear test — something it did after rocket launches in 2006 and 2009. South Korean intelligence officials have said that recent satellite images show North Korea has been digging a new tunnel in what appears to be preparation for a third nuclear test.

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South Korea's Unification Ministry said it was examining North Korea's intentions behind the statement; the Defense Ministry said no special military movement had been observed in the North. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules.

Relations between the Koreas have been abysmal since Lee took office in 2008 with a hard-line policy that ended unconditional aid shipments to the North.

In Beijing, North Korea's biggest ally, China's top foreign policy official met Sunday with a North Korean delegation and expressed confidence in the country's new young leader, Kim Jong Un. 

NBC News' Julie Yoo, msnbc.com staff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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