North Korea has condemned South Korea's decision to send non-combat troops to help the U.S.-led war in Iraq as a "criminal act" that will heighten tension on the Korean Peninsula, a news agency said.

"The dispatch is a criminal act that further imperils the situation on the Korean Peninsula," South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted North Korea's Central Television Broadcast as saying late Wednesday.

The broadcast came hours after the South Korean parliament Wednesday authorized the deployment of 600 South Korean military engineers and 100 medics in the Gulf.

"It is like supporting and cooperating with a U.S. imperialist war against North Korea," the broadcast said, referring to Pyongyang's claims that Washington is plotting to invade the communist state after Iraq because of the North's suspected nuclear weapons programs.

The broadcast praised anti-Iraq-war protests in South Korea as "righteous and patriotic," Yonhap said. Thousands of activists have protested nearly every day in Seoul against the war.

North Korea has long tried to drive a wedge between South Korea and its key ally, the United States. About 37,000 U.S. soldiers are stationed in South Korea.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has said the deployment of 700 troops to support U.S. forces fighting against Saddam Hussein would boost ties between Seoul and Washington, which have differed at times over how to deal with North Korea.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council has agreed to discuss the nuclear standoff next Wednesday, a day before North Korea's withdrawal from a key non-proliferation treaty becomes final, diplomats said Wednesday.