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Military stages live artillery exercises for second day

North Korea on Thursday began a second day of live-fire artillery exercises near its tense sea border with South Korea, ignoring US requests to halt the "provocative" drill.

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AFP - North Korea on Thursday began a second day of live-fire artillery exercises near its tense sea border with South Korea, ignoring US requests to halt the "provocative" drill, Seoul's military said.

Shore batteries fired several shells which landed in the sea near South Korea's Yeonpyeong island at 8:15 am (2315 GMT Wednesday), the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

A spokesman could not say whether the shells landed north or south of the borderline because of poor visibility.

On Wednesday Seoul's military said the North fired more than 80 shells into the sea, sparking an exchange of fire with the South's forces.

No one was hurt when South Korean Marines Wednesday fired 100 warning shots in response to the shelling, but the incident fuelled tensions on the peninsula.

The artillery drill began one day after the North declared two "no sail" zones near the west coast border, a persistent flashpoint.

The North refuses to recognise the line drawn by United Nations forces after the 1950-1953 Korean War and demands it run further to the south.

The area was the scene of deadly naval battles in 1999 and 2002. In the latest naval clash last November, a firefight left a North Korean patrol boat in flames.

Washington called the North's shelling "provocative", echoing an earlier protest from Seoul to its neighbour.

"The declaration by North Korea of a no sail zone and the live firing of artillery are provocative actions and as such are not helpful," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Wednesday.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said: "We clearly are discouraging any further acts of aggression which would in any way increase the tensions along this historically disputed boundary area."

The North says it has every right to carry out an annual live fire drill and will continue the exercise. South Korea's military said it had information the drill would continue through Friday.

Analysts said the drill was partly aimed at highlighting Pyongyang's demand for talks with the United States on a formal peace treaty to end the 1950s war before it returns to nuclear disarmament talks.

The combatants have remained technically at war since their conflict ended only in an armistice.

Even though Pyongyang refuses to recognise the borderline, all its shells Wednesday landed north of it.

Chosun Ilbo newspaper said the Seoul government has decided to suspend talks with the North on economic cooperation if shells land south of the border known as the Northern Limit Line (NLL).

"North Koreans firing shells into southern waters across the NLL would be tantamount to a grave provocation," it quoted an unidentified official as saying.

"Inter-Korean talks would be hardly held as scheduled."

Seoul is also considering tougher action, it quoted an anonymous military  official as saying.

One option could be for Seoul's artillery to fire into the sea right in front of the North's land batteries, the official said. Presidential officials declined comment on the Chosun report.

The North, hit by sanctions for its nuclear and missile programmes, has sent mixed messages to Seoul in recent weeks.

It is pressing to upgrade or restart joint business projects with the South, while the military has threatened possible attacks.

Media reports that the South has drawn up a contingency plan for regime collapse in Pyongyang angered the North, as did Seoul's warning that it would launch a preemptive strike to foil any threatened nuclear attack.

So far, the unification ministry said it was going ahead with talks scheduled in North Korea for Monday about the future of their jointly-run industrial estate at Kaesong.

"Despite the firing near the Northern Limit Line, we will push for calm and stable inter-Korean relations by moving ahead with the talks," said spokesman Chun Hae-Sung.
 

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