(LEAD) N.K. intends to turn Korean Peninsula into Middle East-like conflict zone: Seoul

Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho said Friday that North Korea has focused on staging provocations in an apparent bid to turn the Korean Peninsula into areas similar to the Middle East, with constant risks of military conflicts. North Korea has been ramping up weapons tests in the new year, including the launches of cruise missiles from land and sea and a hypersonic missile. "North Korea appears to intend to make (the Korean Peninsula) a region where constant risks of military conflicts exist, such as the Middle East," Kim said in a radio program. "We should never fall for North Korea's scheme." He said with military provocations, North Korea seems to aim to instigate security jitters and drive a wedge in South Korean society ahead of April's general elections. The North fired several cruise missiles off the west coast Tuesday, the third of such weapons tests in a week. Pyongyang also fired the new Pulhwasal-3-31 submarine-launched cruise missiles Sunday. Seoul's unification ministry said North Korea app ears to regularly issue military threats and spark anxiety about security in order to undermine the South Korean people's trust for the government. "The North also intends to draw attention from the international community in a bid to create an atmosphere that North Korea's demand should be accepted for the resolution of a crisis on the Korean Peninsula," Kim In-ae, deputy spokesperson at the ministry, told a press briefing. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un recently defined inter-Korean ties as those between "two states hostile to each other" and ordered the dismantling of agencies in charge of inter-Korean affairs. "There is a view that North Korea's foreign ministry may handle inter-Korean affairs from now on. But the government has a clear stance that the unification ministry should deal with issues related to the ties between the two Koreas," the minister said. Meanwhile, Kim, Seoul's point man on North Korea, said the food rationing system in North Korea has "completely" collapsed amid chronic food sh ortages, citing a soon-to-be-released report on North Korea's economic and social situations. The ministry plans to make the report public for the first time this month after it compiled information based on interviews with more than 6,300 North Korean defectors. Source: Yonhap News Agency

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