SKorea starts naval fir­ing drills amid ten­sion

The Pak Banker - - 6international -

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

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