Thu, Jan 05, 2012 - Page 5 News List

S Korea, US look to boost defenses

AFP, Seoul

The South Korean and US military will soon sign a new plan to counter North Korean attacks and hold regular exercises, Seoul said yesterday, amid wariness over the North’s power transition.

“We believe there remains a possibility of provocations by the North during the power succession to Kim Jong-un,” South Korean Deputy Minister of National Defense Lim Kwan-bin told reporters.

The North has hailed Kim Jong-un as “great successor” and appointed him military chief since his father and longtime leader Kim Jong-il died on Dec. 17.

Hopes that cross-border tensions might ease have so far not materialized.

The new regime has already vowed retaliation against Seoul for alleged disrespect during the mourning period for Kim Jong-il, and vowed never to deal with its current conservative government.

Some analysts believe the untested son could try to bolster his credentials by staging a limited border incident.

The North has publicly closed ranks behind its new leader, aged in his late 20s, and vowed no policy changes.

More than 100,000 people rallied on Tuesday in Pyongyang in support of Kim Jong-un, the North’s state media reported. It also released footage of his visit on Sunday to an armored division.

The South Korean Ministry of National Defense, in a policy plan for this year, said the allies would sign the joint counter-provocation plan this month, as agreed in October.

“After completing our joint contingency plan, we will hold regular exercises together to establish a strong defense posture,” it said in a statement.

The two Koreas have remained technically at war since the 1950 to 53 Korean War ended with only a ceasefire. The US has based troops in the South ever since and currently has 28,500 in the country.

Cross-border tensions have been high since South Korea accused the North of torpedoing a warship with the loss of 46 lives in March 2010.

Pyongyang denied involvement, but in November 2010 shelled an island near the Yellow Sea border and killed four South Koreans.

South Korea has strengthened troops and weaponry on its “frontline” islands since then.

The military in this year’s policy plan vowed to immediately hit back against any attacks, especially near the disputed sea border, to “completely quash the enemy’s will for more provocations.”

In Washington, the US Department of State said on Tuesday that the North’s stated refusal to engage with South Korea bodes ill for efforts to revive six-party nuclear disarmament talks.

“That’s not going to be conducive to getting back to the table,” spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The North said last week it would never have dealings “with the [South Korean President] Lee Myung-bak group of traitors.”

Nuland said the North should improve ties with the South and demonstrate its commitment to denuclearisation before the six-party talks can resume.

The talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program — chaired by China and involving the two Koreas, the US, Japan and Russia — have been at a standstill since the last round in December 2008.

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