North Korea will turn US military bases in the region into a "sea of fire" if war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, North Korean media yesterday quoted a communist officer as saying.

The North's state-run news media highlighted the comment hours after South Korea released a new defence policy paper that revealed a US reinforcement plan to dispatch 690,000 troops and 2,000 warplanes if war breaks out in Korea.

North Korea's sabre rattling rhetoric comes as the isolated North is urging its military to prepare for what it calls a US plan to invade. Washington and its allies say they are trying to end the North's nuclear weapons programmes through multinational disarmament talks.

"If the US imperialists ignite flames of war, we will first of all strike all bases of US imperialist aggressors and turn them into a sea of fire," North Korea's Central Radio quoted officer Hur Ryong as saying, according to the South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Hur was also quoted as saying that the North Korean military will "thoroughly incinerate the aggressor elements that collude with the US imperialists," in an apparent reference to South Korea and Japan, both of which host US military bases. Hur made his comment on Wednesday during a debate in Pyongyang on leader Kim Jong Il's "army-first" policy that stresses military strength.

Earlier yesterday, South Korea released its new defence white paper that mirrored its efforts to redefine half-century-old confrontation with the communist North as well as adjust its alliance with the United States. The commitment of US troops in the event of war appears aimed at easing concerns that Washington's plan to expand the role of US troops in South Korea from guarding against the North into rapid regional redeployments could create a security vacuum in the world's last remaining Cold War flash point.