South Korea stages large-scale live-fire drill near border

Thursday, December 23, 2010

SEOUL - South Korea held large-scale ground and air live-fire drills Thursday close to the border with the North, a media report said.

The manoeuvres at a firing range in Pocheon, around 30 km from the frontier, involved over 100 types of weapons, officials were quoted as saying by the South’s Yonhap News Agency.

Artillery, anti-aircraft guns, attack helicopters and fighter jets took part, the report said. Around 800 troops were involved.

The firing lasted around two hours, a military spokesman said.

Seoul has been toughening its stance following domestic criticism over a weak response to the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island by North Korea Nov 23, which left two soldiers and two civilians dead.

The US had urged North Korea not to respond to Thursday’s drills. “I think exercises that have been announced well in advance, that are transparent, that are defensive in nature should in no way engender a response from the North Koreans,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters late Wednesday.

He added that Washington was “obviously supportive of the Republic of Korea”, using the formal name for South Korea, an ally of the US since a 1954 mutual defence agreement.

Thursday also saw the second day of a three-day firing exercise by the navy in the Sea of Japan to the east of the peninsula, around 100 km south of the maritime border with the North.

The drills, scheduled to run until Friday, follow other live-fire exercises off the country’s west coast earlier this week.

They were the latest in a series of drills carried out by the South, either alone or in conjunction with the US, since the shelling of Yeonpyeong.

North Korea does not recognise the maritime border, drawn up by the UN, the US and South Korea after the 1950-53 conflict with the North ended in a ceasefire, leaving the two Koreas technically at war.

The South Korean military has lowered its level of readiness for the border regions by one notch from the top level, a Joint Chiefs of Staff official was quoted as saying Thursday by Yonhap.

The forces had been on highest alert for live-fire drills on Yeonpyeong Monday, and for the illumination of a large Christmas tree near the North Korean border, which Pyongyang has denounced as psychological warfare.

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