SKorea starts naval firing drills amid tension
SEOUL: South Korean troops pushed ahead with naval firing drills Monday, a day after North Korea warned such exercises would aggravate already high tensions between the rivals following the North's deadly shelling last month of a frontline South Korean island.
The drills came ahead of a planned meeting by top diplomats from the United States, South Korea and Japan later Monday in Washington on the North's recent aggressive moves, including expanding its nuclear program in a way that could boost its atomic arsenal.
South Korea's army began firing artillery into the waters off the divided Korean peninsula as part of weeklong drills set to continue through Sunday, South Korean army and Joint Chiefs of Staff officers said.
The officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing internal rules, said the previously scheduled drills were to take place at nearly 30 sites, but none of Monday's exercises were along the disputed western sea border between the Koreas where last month's attack took place. The navy said warships were to join the drills later this week.
South Korea's military and Defense Ministry declined to provide further details on the drills.
Tensions have soared since Nov. 23, when North Korea rained shells on Yeonpyeong Island, killing four South Koreans, including two civilians. The North said South Korea first fired artillery toward its territorial waters. South Korea says it fired shells southward, not toward North Korea, as part of routine exercises.
Deadly skirmishes occur periodically along the disputed maritime border, but the latest assault on Yeonpyeong, home to both fishing communities and military bases, was the North's first to target a civilian area since the 1950-53 Korean War. The Washington meeting set for later Monday was expected to discuss the North's nuclear program and how to deter its provocations, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun said. -Ap