Mon, November 29, 2010
World > Asia-Pacific > DPRK, S Korea trade fire

SKorea cancels new artillery drill on tense island

2010-11-29 12:02:06 GMT2010-11-29 20:02:06 (Beijing Time)  SINA.com

South Korea President Lee Myung-bak, right, encourages field commanders after being briefed by Gen. Walter Sharp, center, commander of U.S. Forces in Korea,on an ongoing Korea-U.S. joint drill in the Yellow Sea during his visit to the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command in Euijeongbu, South Korea, Monday, Nov. 29, 2010. (AP Photo)

SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea's military has canceled a live-fire artillery exercise planned for Tuesday on the front-line island targeted last week by a deadly North Korean bombardment.

Officials from the South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters Monday that the plans to fire artillery rounds into waters southwest of Yeonpyeong Island have been canceled.

The military did not give a reason for the cancellation.

Similar live-fire maneuvers by South Korean troops one week ago triggered the North's bombardment that decimated parts of Yeonpyeong Island, killed four people and drew return fire in a clash that set the region on edge.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean troops geared up Monday for new artillery drills on a front-line island targeted by a deadly North Korean bombardment last week as the president vowed tougher retaliation for any future aggression from North Korea.

Similar live-fire maneuvers by South Korean troops one week earlier triggered the North's bombardment that decimated parts of Yeonpyeong Island, killed four people and drew return fire in a clash that set the region on edge. The new drills planned for Tuesday could have even higher stakes: South Korean and American warships are currently engaged in separate military exercises in nearby waters.

Hours after President Lee Myung-bak's first address to the nation since the attack, authorities announced new drills — including live-fire exercises — on Yeonpyeong Island on Tuesday morning, and issued a warning over loudspeakers for residents to take shelter in underground bunkers. The North's artillery attack last week also wounded 18 people on an island that lies within sight of North Korean shores.

North Korea had called the drills a violation of its territorial waters and a deliberate provocation after Pyongyang urged South Korean officials not to carry out the exercises, and has warned of a "merciless" attack if further provoked.

Meanwhile, a nuclear-powered U.S. supercarrier and a South Korean destroyer carried out joint military exercises in the waters south of the island in a united show of force by the longtime allies. Jets roared as they took off from the carrier.

Amid the heightened tension, classified U.S. State Department documents leaked Sunday by online whistle-blower WikiLeaks showed the United States and South Korea discussing possible scenarios for reunification of the peninsula, and American worry over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

Under pressure to take stronger action in dealing with the defiant North, Lee lashed out at Pyongyang.

"Only a few meters away from where shells landed, there is a school where classes were going on," Lee said. "I am outraged by the ruthlessness of the North Korean regime, which is even indifferent to the lives of little children."

Lee has come under withering criticism for what opponents have called lapses in South Korea's response to the attack just eight months after the sinking of a South Korean warship in nearby waters.

In the past week, Lee has replaced his defense minister, ordered reinforcements for the 4,000 troops on Yeonpyeong and four other Yellow Sea islands, and upgraded the military rules of engagement.

"If the North commits any additional provocations against the South, we will make sure that it pays a dear price without fail," Lee warned.

He didn't offer specifics about what consequences the North would face, and he offered few details on what actions South Korea will take in response to last week's attack, other than promising to strengthen the military.

On Yeonpyeong, the military has added long-range artillery guns, doubling the amount of K-9 howitzers to 12, and multiple rocket launchers, the Yonhap news agency reported, citing unnamed military officials.

Minutes after the speech, North Korea issued another threat to attack South Korea and the United States, calling the allies' joint war drills "yet another grave military provocation."

The two Koreas are required to abide by an armistice signed in 1953 at the close of their brutal, three-year war.

However, North Korea does not recognize the maritime border drawn by the U.N. at the close of the war, and considers the waters around Yeonpyeong Island its territory.

The waters have been the site of three deadly skirmishes since 1999, as well as the sinking of the Cheonan warship in March that killed 46 sailors and last week's artillery attack.

Yeonpyeong Island, normally home to about 1,300 civilian residents, was declared a special security area Monday, which could pave the way for a forced evacuation the 300 residents, journalists and officials still left on the island.

Military trucks carrying what appeared to be multiple rocket launchers were seen heading to a marine base on the island Monday.

Artillery rounds will be fired into the waters southwest of Yeonpyeong Island, not toward North Korea, an official at the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

China, North Korea's only major ally, has sought to calm tensions.

Beijing's top nuclear envoy, Wu Dawei, called Sunday for an emergency meeting in early December among regional powers involved in nuclear disarmament talks, including North Korea.

Seoul, which wants proof of Pyongyang's commitment to denuclearization as well as a show of regret over the Cheonan incident, gave a cool response to the proposal.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan again condemned North Korea's deadly artillery barrage Monday, calling the attack on civilians "a barbaric act." He said Tokyo would cooperate with Seoul and Washington on how to counter North Korea's "reckless" acts.

The documents leaked by WikiLeaks showed deep U.S. worries about North Korean and Iranian cooperation on their rogue nuclear programs.

The New York Times published documents that indicated the United States and South Korea were "gaming out an eventual collapse of North Korea" and discussing the prospects for a unified country, if the North's economic troubles and political transition lead it to implode.

(Agencies)

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