S. Korea postpones live-firing exercises
SOUTH Korea’s military yesterday announced new artillery drills on the frontline island shelled in a deadly North Korean attack, then immediately postponed them in a sign of disarray hours after the president vowed to get tough on the North.
Similar live-fire maneuvers by South Korean troops one week earlier triggered North Korea’s bombardment that decimated parts of Yeonpyeong Island, killed four people and drew return fire in a clash that set the region on edge.
North Korea had called the drills a violation of its territorial waters and a deliberate provocation after Pyongyang urged Seoul not to carry out the exercises, and has warned of a “merciless” attack if further provoked.
The new drills originally planned for today could have had even higher stakes: South Korean and American warships are currently engaged in separate military exercises to the south.
Officials at the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday that the latest drills were postponed after the marine unit on the island announced them without getting approval from higher military authorities. The cancelation had nothing to do with North Korea, and the drills will take place later, one official said.
Earlier in the day, President Lee Myung- bak gave his first address to the nation since the attack, taking responsibility for failing to protect his citizens, expressing outrage at North Korea’s “ruthlessness” and vowing tough consequences for any future aggression.
In the past week, Lee has replaced his defense minister, ordered reinforcements for the 4,000 troops on Yeonpyeong and four other Yellow Sea islands, and upgraded the military rules of engagement.
“If the North commits any additional provocations against the South, we will make sure that it pays a dear price without fail,” Lee warned.
Minutes after the speech, North Korea issued another threat to attack South Korea and the United States, calling the allies’ joint war drills “yet another grave military provocation.”
On Yeonpyeong, the military has added long-range artillery guns, doubling the amount of K-9 howitzers to 12, and multiple rocket launchers.
Meanwhile, a nuclearpowered United States supercarrier and a South Korean destroyer were carrying out joint military exercises in waters south of the island in a united show of force by the longtime allies.
Yeonpyeong Island, normally home to about 1,300 civilian residents, was declared a special security area yesterday, which could pave the way for a forced evacuation the 300 residents, journalists and officials still left on the island.
Military trucks carrying what appeared to be multiple rocket launchers were seen heading to a marine base on the island yesterday.