South Korea army to hold huge drill, North silent

The Pak Banker - - International -

SEOUL: South Korea an­nounced land and sea mil­i­tary ex­er­cises on Wed­nes­day in­clud­ing its largest-ever live­fire 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 ar­tillery, fighter jets and the largest num­ber of per­son­nel in a peace-time ex­er­cise, will take place on Thurs­day, af­ter the South's live-fire ar­tillery ex­er­cise on Mon­day on the is­land of Yeon­pyeong, and is bound to in­fu­ri­ate the North.

"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 Py­ongyang, with the lo­cal KCNA agency run­ning sto­ries about leader Kim Jong-il's visit to a power sta­tion. South Korea is also hold­ing three days of live-fir­ing naval drills off the penin­sula's east coast start­ing on Wed­nes­day, a me­dia of­fi­cial at the De­fense Min­istry said.

He would not pro­vide de­tails. Yon­hap news agency said the drills were tak­ing place 100 km (60 miles) south of the mar­itime border with North Korea and in­volved at least six naval boats.

North Korea this week of­fered to re-ad­mit U.N. in­spec­tors concerned about its nu­clear-weapon pro­gramme, lead­ing to spec­u­la­tion of a re­sump­tion of six-party dis­ar­ma­ment talks and a gen­eral sigh of re­lief around the world that the cri­sis had passed.

"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 6 K-9 mech­a­nized ar­tillery, we'll have 36. We'll have the F15 jets fir­ing. We'll have chop­pers. You can say most of the mech­a­nized as­sets tak­ing part will be fir­ing live am­mu­ni­tion."

It will take place in Pocheon re­gion, less than 50 km (30 miles) north of down­town Seoul.

The lat­est cri­sis peaked when North Korea shelled Yeon­pyeong, just south of the dis­puted mar­itime border, killing four peo­ple-in­clud­ing two civil­ians-in the worst at­tack on South Korean ter­ri­tory since the end of the civil war in 1953.

South Korean Pres­i­dent Lee Myung-bak has suf­fered wide­spread do­mes­tic crit­i­cism for his re­sponse to North Korean attacks, with crit­ics say­ing he was in­de­ci­sive and failed to keep the pub­lic in­formed. -Reuters

PARIS: France's Prime Min­is­ter Fran­cois Fil­lon (R) and En­ergy and In­dus­try Min­is­ter Eric Bes­son speak as they leave the El­y­see Palace af­ter the last cabi­net meet­ing of the year in Paris. -Reuters

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