South Korea army to hold huge drill, North silent
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