North Korea issued a New Year's message yesterday warning its impoverished people of an American invasion and asking US to change its hostile policy.

The communist state traditionally marks New Year's Day by issuing a set of policy directives in the form of a joint editorial by the country's three major newspapers representing its communist party, military and youth militia force.

This year's editorial, published on the front pages of all North Korean newspapers, urged South and North Koreans to struggle together to prevent the United States from starting a war on the peninsula.

It also called for a boost in the impoverished country's agricultural production, loyalty for leader Kim Jong Il, and more firepower for the military, the backbone of Kim's totalitarian rule.

"The US should give up its attempt to stifle the DPRK by force of arms and make a switchover in its hostile policy toward it."

A 'switchover' in US policy is a key demand North Korea wants fulfilled before rejoining six-nation talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programmes.

The United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia have held three rounds of talks since last year to find a way of ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions. But no breakthroughs were reported.

A fourth round scheduled for September never took place because the North refused to attend, accusing Washington of plotting to invade it.

Washington wants an immediate end to all the North's nuclear activities. North Korea insists that it needed a nuclear "deterrent" to guard against US invasion, and says it will abandon it only if the United States provides economic compensation and security guarantees.

In its New Year editorial, Pyongyang called agriculture 'the main front of socialist economic construction this year.'

Kim Jong Il grapples with a grim task of reviving his country's centrally planned economy and resolving an international standoff over its nuclear weapons programmes.