S. Korea to stage live-fire drill off all coasts next week


SEOUL, AFP

South Korea will go ahead with live-fire military drills off all coasts of the Korean peninsula following North Korea’s deadly attack on one of its islands last month, an official said Sunday.

But a drill to be staged at 27 venues from Dec. 13 to 19 will not take place near the contested Yellow Sea border with the North, the spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

“This week’s drill will start on Monday as scheduled … we have no plan to conduct it at the frontier islands,” the spokesman told AFP, referring to the South’s five islands near the tense maritime border with the North.

One of the islands, Yeonpyeong, was the scene of a deadly shelling attack on Nov. 23 that killed four South Koreans, including two civilians, and sparked a regional crisis. Since the bombardment, the first of a civilian area since the 1950-53 Korean War, Seoul has staged a flurry of military exercises, including a major joint naval drill with the U.S., in a show of force against Pyongyang. The South had planned a drill at one of the frontline islands during a live-fire exercise last week but it was cancelled due to bad weather, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. The North threatened to deal “merciless retaliatory blows” at the military build-up in the South, calling it “a declaration of an all-out war.” Amid a flurry of diplomatic attempts to defuse regional tension, Beijing has called for an emergency meeting between chief delegates to long-stalled six-party talks on the North’s nuclear disarmament. The North’s leader Kim Jong-Il told Dao Bingguo, a visiting senior Beijing official, that Pyongyang was willing to rejoin the talks if other neighbors also agree to come forward, Yonhap news agency reported, citing a senior diplomatic source in Seoul. “But even if the North shows a more forthcoming stance, it would mean little under the current situation where South Korea, the U.S. and Japan all oppose the idea,” said the source quoted by Yonhap.

The United States, Japan and South Korea have reacted coolly to Beijing’s proposal, saying the North must first mend ties with the South and show it is serious about disarmament before resuming the talks, which also involves Russia.