North holds another live drill in area around NLL

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North holds another live drill in area around NLL

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Residents on Socheong Island take refuge in a bomb shelter and watch TV news coverage yesterday as North Korea began a live-ammunition artillery drill near the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea. [NEWSIS]

North Korea conducted a live-fire drill near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the disputed western maritime border between the two Koreas, yesterday, said the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the second such exercise to be held in less than a month.

Starting at around 2 p.m., the North fired about 50 artillery shells from two coastal bases for about 10 minutes near Yeonpyeong and Baengnyeong islands in the Yellow Sea, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No rounds landed south of the border, it added, falling around three kilometers (1.8 miles) north of the NLL.

This came around five hours after the North warned the South that it planned to carry out live drills. Military authorities issued evacuation orders during the drill, and fishing vessels were warned not to enter the area. At least 3,000 residents of the five northwestern border islands - including Baengnyeong, Yeonpyeong and Daecheong - were evacuated into military-designated shelters during the drill. The islands have around 6,000 residents in total.

President Park Geun-hye told military authorities yesterday, as the country continued mourning the tragic sinking of the Sewol, “to respond according to principle if North Korea fires artillery south of the NLL” in South Korean territory, according to her spokesman Min Kyung-wook.

Earlier that day, the Southwestern Command of the Korean People’s Army sent a fax to the South Korean Navy’s 2nd Fleet at 8:52 a.m. to notify it about the planned live drill in waters in two border regions in the Yellow Sea without specifying the exact time.

After the North announced the live-fire exercises in the morning, the South Korean Ministry of Defense issued a military alert and stepped up readiness by dispatching Navy warships such as the KDX destroyer and fighter aircraft, including F-15K and KF-16 jets, which were scrambled for surveillance operations.

Kim Min-seok, spokesman for the Defense Ministry, warned yesterday morning ahead of the drills, “If North Korea, like last month, fires into the waters south of the NLL, we will regard this as a provocative act and respond firmly.”

But a military official said yesterday it appears that North Korea was careful not to cross the maritime border this time. Last time, the two sides exchanged hundreds of artillery rounds. The provocation follows President Barack Obama’s Seoul visit last Friday and Saturday. Analysts view this as a form of North Korean protest of the summit.

Military analysts also see the drills as a means of the North increasing military tension for residents of the border islands. Yeonpyeong Island was bombarded by North Korea in November 2010, killing four people.

Following Obama and Park’s summit, North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea issued a statement Sunday likening President Park to a “despicable prostitute” and “comfort woman for the U.S.,” and Obama as her pimp. The South’s Unification Ministry denounced the remarks.

The National Defense Commission, the powerful decision-making body in the Communist regime, warned the United States in a statement Monday of a possible fourth nuclear test or intercontinental ballistic missile launch and criticized Obama’s warnings in a speech in Seoul. In a joint statement with Park on Friday, Obama warned, “Threats will get North Korea nothing, other than greater isolation.”

On March 31 the two Koreas exchanged artillery fire. The North notified the South about a planned drill in the morning in seven areas and later that day fired more than 500 artillery rounds from artillery and rocket launchers between 12:15 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. in the direction of the Northern Limit Line. No shells fell on South Korean land, though around 100 shells fell into South Korean waters.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]




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