S. Korea starts naval firing drills amid rising tension with North

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Seoul, Dec.6 (ANI): Brushing aside North Korean warnings of an eminent war on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea has begun live-fire artillery drills near their disputed maritime border on Monday.

The live drills come less than two weeks after North Korea's surprise shelling of a South Korea-held island, sharply escalating tensions between the two countries.

It was not immediately clear if the drills were being staged near the shelled island of Yeonpyeong, where the North's barrage killed two marines and two civilians on November 23 in one of the most serious episodes since the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War. South Korea begins live fire military drills

According to the New York Times and the BBC, the South Korean Government has said that the drills were taking place in 29 land and sea locations.

The BBC said that both Japan and the US are also conducting major joint military drills. he exercises, called "Keen Sword", involve 44,000 personnel, 400 aircraft and 60 warships.

The US is set to host talks with Japan and South Korea, while China has called for six-nation talks to resume.

Pyongyang has accused Seoul of provocation, over its threat to use air strikes in response to further attacks from the North.

The Northern Limit Line, the maritime border declared by UN forces at the end of the Korean War in 1953, is not recognised by Pyongyang.

The South Korean military said last week it would hold further drills in the area but had not indicated when. It is expected the new drills will last about a week.

North Korea, through its official news agency, said the South's new exercises were "set to orchestrate the second Yeonpyeong Island incident at any cost and ignite a war."

The North said a previous live-fire drill by the South had sent shells into its territorial waters and thus provoked the artillery response against Yeonpyeong. South Korea said that it had fired away from the North and that the attack was unprovoked.

The North fired 170 rounds, and the South responded with 80, defense analysts said.

Meanwhile, according to the BBC and the NYT, a security commission has recommended to President Lee Myung-bak that marine forces be increased to 12,000 from 5,000 on South Korea's outlying islands, which lie just off the North Korean coast.

The Yonhap news agency quoted defence officials in Seoul, as saying that the islands are already being bolstered and upgraded.

Senior diplomats from South Korea and Japan were due to meet in Washington on Monday to discuss the recent inter-Korean tensions, the artillery exchange and North Korea's recently disclosed uranium-enrichment program. (ANI)

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