South Korean military kicks off live-fire exercise amid tensions
SEOUL — South Korea began a live-fire exercise Monday, one day after North Korea said Seoul was “hell-bent” on trying “to escalate the confrontation and start a war.”
The training is scheduled to last through Sunday and could include firing from land and sea at 29 locations across the peninsula, a spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. Firing at Daecheong island — one of five islands located near the disputed Northern Limit Line — was delayed Monday because of weather, the spokesman said.
The spokesman also said some drills this week are also expected to take place at Yeonpyeong island, where North Korean artillery fire killed four people on Nov. 23. South Korea would not say how many of its troops were participating, citing security concerns.
U.S. and South Korean military spokesmen described the exercise as routine training that was planned before North Korea’s bombardment of Yeonpyeong. U.S. Forces Korea spokesman David Oten said Monday that no U.S. troops were participating in the exercise, which he said is a monthly event.
North Korea denounced the exercise in a posting Sunday on the Korea Central News Agency’s website, saying that the “South Korean puppet group … is getting more frantic in military provocations and war moves under this pretext.”
North Korea also claimed that South Korea and the United States will stage a large naval exercise involving U.S. nuclear-armed submarines in the West Sea “in the near future.” Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, said there were no major exercises like the one described by North Korea coming up, though U.S. and South Korean navies hold dozens of exercises of varying size each year.
The JCS spokesman said South Korea was not expecting North Korea to retaliate over the live-fire exercise, which comes days after South Korean president Lee Myung-bak appointed Kim Kwan-jin as new defense minister. Kim took office Saturday and promised to bomb North Korea if the communist country attacked again.
Kim’s predecessor resigned amidst criticism of a lackluster response to the shelling at Yeonpyeong, which came eight months after the sinking of a South Korean warship near the disputed Northern Limit Line — a martime extension of the demarcation line separating the countries. A South Korean-led international investigation found that a North Korean torpedo sank the Cheonan while it was performing routine maneuvers, killing 46 sailors on board. North Korea has never recognized the Northern Limit Line, which was set by the United Nations after the Korean War, and claims it should be further south.
Meanwhile, diplomats from South Korea and Japan were scheduled to meet U.S. officials Monday in Washington to discuss the increasing tensions on the Korean peninsula.
“What will come out of that is a unified front on policy regarding North Korea,” said Bruce Bechtol, author of “Defiant Failed State: The North Korean Threat to International Security” and an associate professor of political science at Angelo State University. “I don’t think the governments of any of those three nations have any patience left with North Korea, and I think the public in all three places is about in the same state of mind.” email@example.com