South Korea Begins Naval Firing Drills On Monday Amid Tensions


By MARK McDONALD
Published: December 5, 2010

SEOUL, South Korea — Brushing aside North Korean warnings of war, South Korea began live-fire artillery drills near their disputed maritime border on Monday, less than two weeks after the North’s surprise shelling of a South Korea-held island sharply escalated tensions between them.

It was not immediately clear if the drills were being staged near the shelled island, Yeonpyeong, where the North’s barrage killed two marines and two civilians on Nov. 23 in one of the most serious episodes since the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War. South Korean forces belatedly fired back, but the response was considered so feeble that it led to a shakeup in the Defense Ministry and toughened rules of military engagement with the North.

The South Korean military said last week it would hold further drills in the area but had not indicated when. It is expected the new drills will last about a week.

North Korea, through its official news agency, said the South’s new exercises were “set to orchestrate the second Yeonpyeong Island incident at any cost and ignite a war.”

The North said a previous live-fire drill by the South had sent shells into its territorial waters and thus provoked the artillery response against Yeonpyeong. South Korea said that it had fired away from the North and that the attack was unprovoked.

The North fired 170 rounds, and the South responded with 80, defense analysts said.

A security commission has recommended to President Lee Myung-bak that marine forces be increased to 12,000 from 5,000 on South Korea’s outlying islands, which lie just off the North Korean coast, according to a report Monday from the Yonhap news agency in Seoul. Artillery positions on the islands were already being bolstered and upgraded, defense officials said.

Later Monday, senior diplomats from South Korea and Japan were due to meet in Washington to discuss the recent inter-Korean tensions, the artillery exchange and North Korea’s recently disclosed uranium-enrichment program.

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