North Korea threatens 'merciless' action over drills


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The Independent Online

North Korea today threatened to launch "merciless" strikes against South Korea over its planned live-fire drills near their disputed sea border.

South Korea plans to stage regular one-day artillery drills tomorrow from front-line islands off the western coast, including one shelled by North Korea in 2010, according to Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff. It said South Korea informed North Korea of its training plan today.

The North's military issued a statement warning of "merciless retaliatory strikes" if the training is implemented.

"Such move of the war-like forces is a premeditated military provocation ... to drive the overall situation on the Korean peninsula into the phase of war," a North Korean western military command said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

In Seoul, an official at the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that South Korea's military will go ahead with the planned two-hour artillery drills and is ready to repel any potential North Korean provocation.

South Korea also plans joint anti-submarine drills with the United States this week, but the training site is further south, he said. About 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea as what US and South Korean officials call deterrence against North Korean aggression.

South Korea regularly conducts artillery drills from front-line islands. A November 2010 drill at one of the five islands, Yeonpyeong, triggered a North Korean artillery bombardment that killed four South Koreans. Pyongyang has accused Seoul of provoking the attack by conducting drills in its territorial waters.

The North frequently issues similar rhetoric against South Korea, but the latest warning comes as ties between the Koreas remain tense following the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in December.

South Korea has barred all of its citizens, except for two private delegations, from visiting to pay respects to Kim, and North Korea has vowed to retaliate.

"The Lee Myung-bak group of traitors should not forget the lesson taught by the Yeonpyeong Island shelling case," the North's statement said, referring to the South Korean president.

It warned all civilians living or working on the islands to evacuate before the drills start.

The North's warning also came four days before US and North Korean officials meet in Beijing for talks on the country's nuclear weapons programme. The talks will be the first such bilateral contact since Kim's death in December.

The Korean peninsula remains technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.