Seoul: North Korea is increasingly likely to launch a "surprise provocation" against South Korea following a series of strongly-worded threats, Seoul`s Defence Minister Kim Kwan-Jin said on Monday.
"The possibility of a surprise provocation with various means and methods is steadily increasing while (the North is) pressurising us with rhetorical threats," minister Kim told a parliamentary session.
"There have been continuing activities in North Korea to maintain its capability to conduct nuclear tests and launch missiles," Yonhap news agency quoted the minister as saying.
After a few months of relative calm, since late May the North has been using harsher rhetoric against the South`s conservative government -- describing it as a US puppet bent on fuelling confrontation.
It announced it would have no further dealing with the administration and poured scorn on what it said were secret approaches by Seoul for summit talks.
The North`s military has also threatened retaliation unless Seoul punishes troops who used pictures of Pyongyang`s ruling dynasty as rifle-range targets.
The practice has been halted.
Minister Kim said his military was keeping close watch on the North`s troops and staying ready to cope with "any types of provocation".
Cross-border ties worsened after President Lee Myung-Bak came to power in February 2008 and linked major aid to the North`s nuclear disarmament.
Relations have been icy since the South accused the North of sinking one of its warships in March 2010 with the loss of 46 lives.
The North denies involvement in the sinking. But it shelled a South Korean border island last November, killing four people including two civilians.
The North says its shelling was provoked by the South`s firing drill and refuses to apologise for either incident -- a precondition set by Seoul before any serious dialogue.