South Korea started live-fire drill on shelled island

21 12 2010

By Tania Branigan (The Guardian, 16 Dec. 2010)

The manoeuvres would take place between Saturday and Tuesday, the joint chief of staffs said. A source said they would last one day. Dr Leonid Petrov, a Korea expert at the University of Sydney, warned that the move could inflame tensions on the peninsular. “It is appalling. If it was a bona fide need for artillery practice they have plenty of islands in the Western sea,” he said.

“This is simply sending a message that the South is putting pressure on the North – but at the same time refuses to negotiate.” He said South Korean society was too complacent about the danger of war. “Seoul is so vulnerable and so close to the demilitarised zone [that divides the peninsula] and the infrastructure is so fragile.” Petrov argued that North Korea’s recovery from the famine of the 90s and the advances in its nuclear technology had made it more confident.

Professor Han Seung-joo, a former South Korean foreign minister, said South Korea’s military needed to show their defence capabilities. “I don’t think this is meant to be provocative,” he said. “If North Korea are looking for an excuse like they did before, they will use any kind of excuse.”

The military stand-off comes amid growing concern about North Korea’s nuclear programme. Recent reports have suggested the country may have built more plants to enrich uranium and a South Korean newspaper reported yesterday that there were signs it might be preparing to test a third nuclear device next spring.

North Korea’s foreign ministry said today that it supported dialogue to defuse tensions and denuclearise the Korean peninsula but would never beg for it, Seoul’s Yonhap news agency reported. It reiterated that its uranium enrichment programme was for peaceful purposes. The North wants the resumption of the stalled six-party aid-for-denuclearisation talks, but is unlikely to accept the preconditions demanded by the US, South Korea and Japan, who want a concrete commitment to denuclearisation.

“When they call me they always want to send a message of some kind,” said Richardson, New Mexico governor and a former UN ambassador, as he stopped in Beijing en route to Pyongyang. “My hope is that they provide messages that will lower tensions on the Korean peninsula. My message to them will be: we need peace, we need to stop some of these aggressive actions, especially with respect to South Korea”…

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