Tensions rise as South Korea plans border military drill

N Korea will launch strikes if S Korea carries out live-fire drills. Picture: Getty
N Korea will launch strikes if S Korea carries out live-fire drills. Picture: Getty
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North Korea has said it will launch “merciless” strikes if South Korea goes through with planned live-fire drills this week near their disputed sea border – the most dire threat made by Pyongyang since the late Kim Jong-il was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-un.

North Korea doesn’t want a war but its people are always ready to “dedicate their blood to defend their inviolable territory,” officer Sin Chol Ung at the North’s Korean People’s Security Forces said yesterday.

“We are monitoring every movement by the South Korean warmongers. If they provoke us, there will be only merciless retaliatory strikes,” Sin said.

South Korea will stage regular one-day artillery drills this week from front-line islands off its western coast, including one shelled by North Korea in 2010, according to Seoul’s joint chiefs of staff.

It said South Korea informed North Korea of its training plan over the weekend.

The official KCNA news agency also quoted the North’s military as urging civilians living on the five islands near the disputed area to evacuate before the start of the military exercises.

“Such move of the warlike forces is a premeditated military provocation ... to drive the overall situation on the Korean peninsula into the phase of war,” a North Korean western military command said in a statement carried by KCNA.

The North frequently issues fierce rhetoric against South Korea, but the latest warning comes as ties between the Koreas remain tense following the death of Kim Jong-il in December.

South Korea has barred all of its citizens, except for two private delegations, from visiting to pay respects to Kim, and North Korea has vowed to retaliate.

South Korea regularly conducts artillery drills from front-line islands. A November 2010 drill at one of the five islands, Yeonpyeong, triggered a North Korean artillery bombardment that killed four South Koreans. Pyongyang has accused Seoul of provoking the attack by conducting drills in its territorial waters.

South Korea also plans joint anti-submarine drills with the United States this week, but the area in which they will take place is further south. While much of North Korea’s military equipment is obsolete, it is believed to possess a potent submarine force.

About 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea as what Washington and South Korean officials call deterrence against North Korean aggression.

“The Lee Myung-bak group of traitors should not forget the lesson taught by the Yeonpyeong Island shelling case,” the North’s statement said, referring to the South Korean president.

The North’s warning also came four days before US and North Korean officials meet in Beijing for talks on the country’s nuclear weapons programme. The talks will be the first such bilateral contact since Kim’s death on 17 December.

The Korean peninsula remains technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.