Live-fire drills staged off all 3 coastsSouth Korea’s military yesterday launched live-fire drills in the waters off all three coasts of the Korean Peninsula, renewing its commitment to tougher retaliation against any future provocations by North Korea, officials said.
Yeonpyeong Island, hit by the North’s deadly artillery attacks last month, was excluded from the latest firing exercises scheduled to continue through Friday, as military leaders took into consideration the safety of residents there and weather conditions, officials at the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
On Sunday, North Korea issued a statement criticizing this week’s live-ammunition maneuvers, accusing the South of being “hell-bent on the moves to escalate the confrontation and start a war.”
South Korea’s new Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, who took office on Saturday, repeated his vows of retaliation, saying his military will “take strong measures so that North Korea can’t dare to provoke again.”
“The naval firing drills started at 29 locations along three coasts as scheduled,” a joint chiefs official said on condition of anonymity.
The locations included Daecheong Island, one of five major islands near the Yellow Sea border, the official said.
“In waters off Daecheong Island, Navy ships are conducting a live-fire drill,” he said.
North Korea’s unprovoked artillery fire on Nov. 23 left four dead and 18 wounded.
The North justified the assault by claiming that its military had reacted only after the South’s troops on the island held live-fire drills and fired into its waters, the usual logic its regime has used as an excuse for past shellings into the waters across the maritime border.
South Korea’s military said its harmless, regular drills at the time of the North’s attack were conducted on its side of the so-called Northern Limit Line, the maritime border drawn by the United Nations that Pyongyang does not acknowledge.
The South’s government and military came under fierce criticism for being too weak in responding to the North’s daylight attack on Yeonpyeong, prompting President Lee Myung-bak to replace his defense chief. The North fired 170 rounds. In response, the South returned 80 rounds and scrambled fighter jets, but they didn’t engage.
The North’s Korean Central News Agency on Sunday accused South Korea of planning this week’s drills and “rapidly driving the situation on the Korean Peninsula to an uncontrollable extreme phase.”
“No one can predict to what extent the situation will deteriorate in the future,” the KCNA said.
Following the North’s alleged torpedo attack on a South Korean warship in March, the North’s attack on Yeonpyeong was yet another reminder of a grim reality that the two Koreas are still technically at war since their 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.