Seoul: South Korea`s President has vowed a relentless retaliation against North Korea if provoked again, saying he is not afraid of a war with the communist North.
The two Koreas have ramped up their rhetoric since North Korea shelled a front-line island last month, killing four South Koreans. Both sides accuse each other of provoking first.
President Lee Myung-bak said in a regular radio address on Monday that South Korea`s military "must respond relentlessly" to any new North Korean attacks.
Lee said, "Fear of war is never helpful in preventing war."
Lee called for national solidarity against military aggression by the North on Monday, saying Pyongyang looks for division in the South as an opportunity to strike.
Lee, under domestic pressure after his perceived weak response to Pyongyang, has sharpened his language against the North after two attacks this year that raised tension on the Korean peninsula to the highest since the 1950-53 Korean War.
The clashes have led some analysts to say the chance of a wider conflict is now greater than ever.
In the latest rhetorical sparring, the North last week threatened a nuclear "sacred war" and Lee vowed "a merciless counterattack" against any fresh North Korean attacks as rare large-scale military drills in the South kept tensions high.
"We can`t afford to have division of you against me in the face of national security, because what`s at stake is our very lives and the survival of this nation," Lee said in a national radio address.
Lee said it was divided public opinion in the wake of the North`s submarine attack on one of South Korea`s Navy ships in March, killing 46 sailors, that had prompted Pyongyang to bombard a South Korean island near a disputed sea border last month. North Korea denies responsibility for the ship attack.
"It is when we show solidarity as one that the North dares not challenge us. Their will to challenge breaks," he said.
Lee took office in 2008 and ended a decade of free-flowing economic aid given to the impoverished neighbour by his two liberal predecessors despite acts of violence against the South. But he has come under criticism for being indecisive and ineffective against the North`s military acts. Critics have said he has little to show for his hard line.
Analysts said the frequency and severity of North Korea`s provocations had pushed Lee against a political wall and he had little choice but to order a harsh retaliation against Pyongyang which could spark a wider military conflict.
Government researchers in Seoul say the North could attack five islands belonging to the South in the West Sea next year.
"There is a high possibility that the North`s provocation linked to its succession will continue in various forms," the report by the Institute for National Security Strategy said.
"Competition in the military to express loyalty for successor Kim Jong-un will intensify, increasing instability and the possibility of sudden provocation against the South," the report released on Sunday said.