N. Korea conducts live-fire drill near western border
Posted : 2014-04-29 11:35
Updated : 2014-04-29 16:56
North Korea conducted a live-fire drill near the western maritime border on Tuesday, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, prompting South Korea to stay on high guard after a similar exercise a month ago sharply raised military tension.
The North began firing off artillery shells starting 2 p.m., hours after notifying the South that it will carry out the exercise in two border regions, north of the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in Yellow Sea.
Following the announcement, South Korea has stepped up military readiness by dispatching warships and early warning surveillance aircraft, as well as fighter jets, near the area to prepare for a potential clash, officials said.
Residents on five northwestern border islands were advised to take shelter in evacuation centers, the JCS said.
Seoul's defense ministry considered the North's drill in the volatile region as a "provocative act," saying it is looking into Pyongyang's intention behind the exercise.
"The North's conducting shelling drill toward southern waters implies its provocative nature," ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said in a briefing. "We are carefully monitoring North Korea's exercise to sternly react if any of its shells fall in southern waters."
The North carried out a shelling drill on March 31 near the same region while South Korea and the U.S. were carrying out their annual joint military exercise.
The last exercise sharply stoked tensions as the two Koreas exchanged artillery fire across the western maritime border after some of the North's shells fell into southern waters.
The latest move comes as Pyongyang stepped up its hostile rhetoric after South Korean President Park Geun-hye held a summit talk with U.S. President Barack Obama in Seoul last week.
The two leaders warned that any provocations by North Korea, which is believed to be preparing a fourth nuclear test, would make the communist regime more isolated.
The latest satellite imagery showed heightened activities at the North's main nuclear test site in Punggye-ri, prompting Seoul and Washington to beef up their surveillance and vigilance against a possible atomic test in near future.
Still, it is not yet clear when the unpredictable regime could conduct a test, as activities detected by the satellites could be either signs for final preparations for an underground detonation or a feint aimed at drawing international attention ahead of last week's visit by Obama to South Korea.
"North Korea is ready for an atomic test," spokesman Kim said. "As the North could deceit the timing, the South Korean military has maintained a high level of vigilance."
The North's drill also comes at a time South Korea is grappling with the aftermath a ferry's sinking in the southwestern waters on April 16. The Navy has dispatched its warships, special forces and combat divers to join the search effort to the find more than 100 people still missing, many of whom are believed to be trapped inside the submerged ship. (Yonhap)