Thu, Dec 23, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Seoul to hold huge drill, North Korea silent

TALKING DIRTY:North Korea’s state news agency made no mention of plans for a huge exercise, but carried an article lambasting a US lawmaker as ‘human scum’

Reuters, SEOUL

South Korea announced land and sea military exercises yesterday including its largest-ever live-fire drill near North Korea just as tension on the peninsula was beginning to ease after Pyongyang’s attack on a southern island.

The land drill, involving three dozen mobile artillery guns, six fighter jets, multiple launch rocket systems and 800 troops, the largest number of personnel in a single peace-time exercise, will take place today and is likely to irritate the North.

The scale of the drill and the timing, coming right after a tense live-fire exercise on Monday, indicate South Korean President Lee Myung-bak sees more political mileage in taking a tough military stance rather than reverting to dialogue, despite overtures from Pyongyang.

Lee’s government was heavily criticized at home for a perceived weak response to North Korea’s shelling of the southern island of Yeonpyeong last month.

“We’ll be sure to deal a punishing blow if the North tries to repeat the kind of situation like the artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong,” Brigadier General Ju Eun-shik said in a statement.

There was no immediate reaction from North Korea. State news agency KCNA, which regularly denounces the South, the US and Japan, made no mention of the drills, although it carried an article lambasting a US lawmaker critical of Pyongyang as “human scum” and a “political illiterate.”

South Korea is also holding three days of live-firing naval drills off the peninsula’s east coast that started yesterday, a media official at the Defense Ministry said.

He would not provide details. Yonhap news agency said the drills were taking place 100km south of the maritime border with North Korea and involved at least six naval vessels.

North Korea this week offered to re-admit UN inspectors concerned about its nuclear-weapon program, leading to speculation of a resumption of six-party disarmament talks and a general sense of relief that the crisis had passed.

“The drills are an indication that [the South] is aiming to keep tensions very high, partly because of the possibility of the North striking back,” said Kim Yong-hyun of Dongguk University.

“Dialogue is clearly not high on the agenda. It’s still very much in the mode of how they can respond to incidents like the one on Yeonpyeong and to show that response in the future will be overwhelming,” Kim said.

The South Korean Army is making no secret that the drill is aimed at displaying its firepower to its neighbor.

“Yes, it will be a show of force against that,” an army officer said, when asked if the shelling of Yeonpyeong last month was a factor in the land drill’s planning.

He said similar drills had been staged previously on more than 50 occasions, but the scale this time was unprecedented.

“The scale of mechanized assets taking place is enormous. When we would normally have six K-9 mechanized artillery, we’ll have 36. We’ll have the F-15 jets firing. We’ll have choppers. You can say most of the mechanized assets taking part will be firing live ammunition,” he said.

It will take place in the Pocheon region, less than 50km north of downtown Seoul.

The South carried out live-fire drills on Yeonpyeong on Monday, which provoked only a verbal reaction from the North.

It had vowed to strike back if the South went ahead with the drills.

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