UN to meet as South Korea plans military drills

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A US governor visiting North Korea has called for it to show maximum restraint to planned South Korean military drills and hopes the UN Security Council will deliver the same message in its emergency meeting, his office said.

A frequent unofficial envoy to the reclusive country, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has held three important meetings with top leaders in North Korea's foreign ministry and military during his four-day visit.

"I hope that the UN Security Council will pass a strong resolution calling for self-restraint from all sides in order to seek peaceful means to resolve this dispute," Richardson said in a statement released by his US office late Saturday. "A UN resolution could provide cover for all sides that prevents aggressive military action."

South Korea's military plans to conduct one-day, live-fire drills by Tuesday on the same front-line island the North shelled last month as the South conducted a similar exercise. The North warned the drills would cause it to strike back harder than it did last month, when four people were killed on Yeonpyeong Island.

The high tensions prompted the UN Security Council on Saturday to schedule an emergency meeting at Russia's request.

The military's position to hold the drills remains unchanged, a Defense Ministry official said, indicating the drills could take place either Monday or Tuesday due to bad weather Sunday. He asked not to be identified, citing the issue's sensitivity.

The North's Foreign Ministry said Saturday that South Korea would face an unspecified "catastrophe" if the drills take place, in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. The North also said it would strike harder than before.

South Korea says the drills are routine, defensive in nature and should not be considered threatening. The US supports that and says any country has a right to train for self-defense, but Russia and China, fellow permanent members of the UN Security Council, have expressed concern.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has urged South Korea to cancel to avoid escalating tensions.

The Security Council scheduled emergency closed-door consultations on North Korea for 11 a.m. EST (1600 GMT) Sunday at Russia's request, said Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the US Mission to the United Nations. The United States holds the council's rotating presidency this month.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the Russian government believes the Security Council must send "a restraining signal" to North Korea and help launch diplomatic actions to resolve all disputes between North Korea and South Korea.

China, the North's key ally, has said it is "unambiguously opposed" to any acts that could worsen already-high tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, called for restraint from all parties concerned to avoid escalation of tension on the Korean peninsula, according to China's official Xinhua News Agency.

During telephone talks with Lavrov on Saturday night, Yang, who is accompanying Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on a visit to Pakistan, said the situation on the peninsula has recently become tense and may further deteriorate, Xinhua reported.

Marines carrying rifles conducted routine patrols Sunday. About 240 residents, officials and journalists remain on Yeonpyeong, said Lim Byung-chan, an official from Ongjin County, which governs the island. He said there is no immediate plan to order a mandatory evacuation to the mainland.

Amid security jitters, nearly 800 out of 1,300 civilians living on the island moved to unsold apartments in Gimpo, west of Seoul, on Sunday, according to Ongjin County officials.

Several bloody naval skirmishes occurred along the western sea border in recent years, but last month's assault was the first by the North to target a civilian area since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. The North does not recognize the UN-drawn sea border in the area.

The North claims South Korea fired artillery toward its territorial waters before it unleashed shells on the island on Nov. 23, while the South says it launched shells southward, not toward North Korea, as part of routine exercises.