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Asia-pacific

South Korea begins 'provocative' drills despite warning from North

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-12-06

South Korea's military began a major drilling exercise Monday weeks after North Korea's deadly bombardment of islands on the divided neighbours’ disputed border. The North has described the move as a “frantic military provocation”.

AP - South Korean troops pushed ahead with naval firing drills Monday, a day after North Korea warned such exercises would aggravate already high tensions between the rivals following the North’s deadly shelling last month of a front-line South Korean island.

The drills came ahead of a planned meeting by top diplomats from the United States, South Korea and Japan later Monday in Washington on the North’s recent aggressive moves, including expanding its nuclear program in a way that could boost its atomic arsenal.
 
South Korea’s army began firing artillery into the waters off the divided Korean peninsula as part of weeklong drills set to continue through Sunday, South Korean army and Joint Chiefs of Staff officers said.
 
The officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing internal rules, said the previously scheduled drills were to take place at nearly 30 sites, but none of Monday’s exercises were along the disputed western sea border between the Koreas where last month’s attack took place. The navy said warships were to join the drills later this week.
 
South Korea’s military and Defense Ministry declined to provide further details on the drills.
 
Tensions have soared since Nov. 23, when North Korea rained shells on Yeonpyeong Island, killing four South Koreans, including two civilians. The North said South Korea first fired artillery toward its territorial waters. South Korea says it fired shells southward, not toward North Korea, as part of routine exercises.
 
Deadly skirmishes occur periodically along the disputed maritime border, but the latest assault on Yeonpyeong, home to both fishing communities and military bases, was the North’s first to target a civilian area since the 1950-53 Korean War.
 
The Washington meeting set for later Monday was expected to discuss the North’s nuclear program and how to deter its provocations, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun said. Senior envoys of the three countries met on Sunday to prepare for Monday’s conference, he said.
 
Last month, North Korea revealed a large uranium-enrichment facility that would give it a new method of making material for atomic bombs in addition to its known plutonium-based program.
 
South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik said Monday that Seoul will spend 30 billion won ($27 million) to help reconstruct Yeonpyeong Island and provide money and better living arrangements for islanders, many of whom now live in a public bathhouse in the western port city of Incheon that has been converted into a refugee center.
 
Kim also said at a news conference that South Korea will review its crisis management system to better cope with a future attack by North Korea.
 
North Korea lashed out Sunday at South Korea for causing “uncontrollable, extreme” tension on the peninsula, pointing to the planned firing drills and what it called South Korea’s “frantic provocations.”
 
“The South Korean puppet group, far from drawing a lesson from the deserved punishment it faced for its reckless firing of shells into the territorial waters of the (North Korea) side around Yeonpyeong Island, is getting more frantic in military provocations and war moves,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.
 
A KCNA dispatch warned that a war between the Koreas would disturb regional peace and security.
 
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said last week that jets would bomb the North if it stages another attack. Kim took office Saturday, replacing a predecessor who resigned amid criticism that South Korea’s response to the shelling was too slow and weak.
 
Also Monday, family members of the two civilians killed in the attack gathered for a funeral. They cried and screamed as the coffins of their loved ones were taken for cremation from a hospital in Incheon. South Korea held a military funeral late last month for the two others killed in the attack - both marines.
 
“I sincerely hope that higher-level officials take care ... of us, so that this kind of thing will never happen again to innocent, weak and poor people,” said Kang Sung-ae, the widow of Kim Chi-baek, one of the civilians.
 
The Yeonpyeong attack came eight months after the sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on a North Korean torpedo attack - also near the maritime border. Forty-six sailors were killed. North Korea has vehemently denied involvement.
 
The Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, technically leaving the two countries still at war. The U.S. stations 28,500 troops in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.
 
Meanwhile, about 40 anti-Pyongyang activists rallied in Seoul on Monday, chanting slogans like “Punish war-maniac (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Il” and “Launch military retaliation” on the North.

 

Date created : 2010-12-06

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