‘North Korean aggression will be met with airstrikes’

Friday, December 3, 2010

SEOUL - South Korea would carry out immediate airstrikes on North Korea in the event of further aggression from its neighbour, the man appointed Seoul’s new defence minister said Friday.

The military would “soundly strike back to ensure that the enemy could no longer provoke us”, Kim Kwan Jin said at his confirmation hearing in parliament, adding that such strikes would “definitely” include airstrikes.

The vow by the former commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff came 10 days after a North Korean artillery attack on Yeonpyeong, a South Korean island in the Yellow Sea. Two civilians and two soldiers were killed.

South Korea’s military returned fire, but it and the government were criticised for responding too late and too laxly. Then-defence minister Kim Tae Young resigned three days later.

Kim Kwan Jin said Friday that South Korea should have answered the attack with airstrikes.

He said he did not believe that North Korea would risk an all-out war because there were too many uncertainties, such as the weak economy of the Stalinist nation and the planned transfer of power from leader Kim Jong Il, who is believed to be ailing, to his son Kim Jong Un.

South Korea’s military plans a series of live-ammunition artillery exercises in the near future around the country, including Yeonpyeong, as a show of strength, media reports said.

They said the exercises were to begin Monday, but a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff would not confirm the reports.

South Korea has dramatically strengthened its military forces on five islands near the two Koreas’ disputed border in the Yellow Sea since the Nov 23 artillery bombardment.

Seoul has denied Pyongyang’s charge that it provoked that attack.

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