South Korea stages live-fire drill; North issues threat

Thursday, December 23, 2010

SEOUL - South Korea held large-scale ground and air live-fire drills Thursday close to the border with North Korea, which sharpened its tone and threatened a “sacred war” with nuclear weapons.

The manoeuvres at a firing range in Pocheon, around 30 km from the inter-Korean border, involved more than 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, and the firing lasted about two hours, a military spokesman said.

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, about 100 km south of the maritime border with North Korea.

Kim Young Chun, minister of the North Korean People’s Armed Forces, accused South Korea of preparing for war with the Sea of Japan exercises, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

“The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK are getting fully prepared to launch a sacred war of Korean-style justice based on the nuclear deterrent at any time necessary to cope with the enemies’ actions, which are deliberately pushing the situation to the brink of a war,” Kim was quoted as saying, referring to his country by the acronym of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Seoul has been toughening its stance against its neighbour after domestic criticism over what was perceived as a weak response to the shelling of a South Korean island by the North Nov 23, which left two soldiers and two civilians dead.

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak said Thursday that a tough response to North Korean attacks was necessary to maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula.

“I thought patience would bring peace to this land, but it was not so,” Lee said on a visit to troops in Yanggu and a post about one kilometre from North Korea.

The president said he then came to realise that only a strong reaction to North Korean attacks would deter it from further belligerent acts and stave off war.

The US, a major ally of South Korea, had urged the North 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 said late Wednesday.

He added that Washington was “obviously supportive of the Republic of Korea,” using the formal name for South Korea.

South Korea has held a series of live-fire exercises since the artillery bombardment of Yeonpyeong island. This week also saw live-fire exercises off the country’s west coast.

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, not a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically still at war.

The South Korean military, meanwhile, lowered its level of readiness along the border 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 Monday at Yeonpyeong 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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