S Korea defies threat to hold artillery drills
20 Feb 2012
South Korea today conducted live-fire drills near its disputed sea border with the North despite threats of a “merciless” military attack if the war games went ahead.
North Korea said it was fully prepared for a “total war” and the drills would lead to a “complete collapse” of ties with the South.
The military exercises are the first time the two Koreas have squared up since the death of Kim Jong Il and the succession of his son Kim Jong Un. But experts said it was unlikely that North Korea would retaliate with anything other than words as it continues to focus on internal stability in the wake of the new leadership.
South Korean military officials said they were ready to repel any attack adding that people living on the front-line islands had been asked to go to underground shelters before the drills started.
Professor Yoo Ho-yeol, of Korea University in Seoul, said: “South Korea’s military would have immediately responded this time, and that’s something that North Korea can’t afford during its transfer of power to Kim Jong Un.”
The disputed maritime line separating the countries was drawn by the US-led UN command without Pyongyang’s consent at the close of the 1950-53 Korean War. Relations between the Koreas plummeted after the November 2010 shelling of front-line Yeonpyeong Island, and a warship sinking in March of that year which killed 46 South Korean sailors.