By Peter Foster
North Korea has threatened severe retaliatory strikes against South Korea if it goes ahead with a live-fire artillery drill this weekend on the same island that was shelled by Pyongyang’s forces last month.
The warning further raises the temperature on the Korean peninsula when tensions are already at hair-trigger levels, following the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island which left four South Koreans dead.
The North, which blamed a similar South Korean exercise for “provoking” last month’s attack on Yeongpyeong Island, warned that “the intensity and scope of the strike will be more serious than the November 23 [shelling]” if Seoul presses ahead with the exercise.
South Korea’s government, which came under intense domestic criticism for not striking back harder at North Korea following the bombardment, has already pledged even stronger retaliation, including possible air strikes, if the North does attack again.
The South said the drills, scheduled for any time between Saturday and Tuesday, were “routine, justified” and will be observed by representatives of the American-led U.N. Command that oversees the armistice.
The island sits close to the disputed maritime border between North and South Korea which has never been the subject of a formal treaty and remains a flashpoint between the two countries.
The South’s military has said its artillery will be aimed away from the North as usual during the forthcoming drill, which will also be supported by 20 US soldiers.
However the North said that this would still constitute a “provocation”, adding in a statement on North Korea’s official KCNA news agency: “The area they have set for the Yeonpyeong island exercise is our sea territory that cannot be touched by anyone.” The raising of tensions on the Peninsular came as diplomatic efforts to calm the Korean situation continued, with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, holding meetings in Beijing with senior Chinese officials.