North Korea readies missiles as military drill begins


By Kim Do-gyun, Reuters

YEONPYEONG — North Korea has placed surface-to-surface missiles on launch pads in the Yellow Sea, Yonhap news agency reported on Sunday, as the United States and South Korea began joint military exercises that have upset neighbor China.

The agency also said North Korea had moved surface-to-air missiles to frontline areas, days after it shelled a tiny South Korean island killing four people. The North’s official KCNA news agency warned of retaliatory action if its territory is violated.

“We will deliver a brutal military blow on any provocation which violates our territorial waters,” KCNA said.

Officials from South Korea’s Defense Ministry and the joint chiefs said they could not comment on the Yonhap report. “It is impossible to confirm the report as it is classified as military secret,” an official said.

The exercises, in waters far south of the disputed maritime boundary, are being held in the face of opposition by China and threats of “consequences” from North Korea.

The chairman of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly will visit China from Tuesday, the official Xinhua news agency said, while a senior Chinese diplomat was in Seoul for talks.

Washington says the drill is intended as a deterrent after

the worst assault on South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

Officials and journalists on the island, Yeonpyeong, were briefly evacuated to bunkers on Sunday, a Reuters witness said. The order was later withdrawn.

The nuclear-powered carrier USS George Washington, which carries 75 warplanes and has a crew of over 6,000, has joined the exercises and will be accompanied by at least four other U.S. warships, an official from U.S. Forces Korea (USKF) told Reuters.

South Korea has deployed three destroyers, frigates and anti-submarine aircraft, Yonhap news agency reported, adding the exercises were being held far south of the disputed area where the artillery firing took place on Tuesday.

“The drills have started and of course the carrier joined the exercises. But I cannot give any further details,” said the USKF official, asking not to be identified.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has told ministers and aides to be ready for further “provocation” by North Korea during the military show of force.

South Korea’s marine commander on Saturday vowed “thousand-fold” revenge for the North Korean attack that killed two servicemen and two civilians.

North Korea said that if there had been civilian deaths, they were “very regrettable,” but that South Korea should be blamed for using a human shield.

It also said the United States should be blamed for “orchestrating” the whole sequence of events to justify sending an aircraft carrier to join the maritime maneuvers.

Regional giant China — under pressure from other powers to rein in North Korea — has said it is determined to prevent an escalation of the violence. But it warned against military acts near its coast.