US, South Korea Launch War Games

Manila Bulletin, November 28, 2010 | Go to article overview

US, South Korea Launch War Games


YEONPYEONG ISLAND, South Korea (AP) - The sound of new artillery fire from North Korea just hours after the U.S. and South Korea launched a round of war games in Korean waters sent residents and journalists on a front-line island scrambling for cover Sunday.None of the rounds landed on Yeonpyeong Island, military officials said, but South Korea's Defense Ministry later warned journalists to leave the island. The incident showed how tense the situation remains along the Koreas' disputed maritime border five days after a North Korean artillery attack decimated parts of the island and killed four South Koreans.As the rhetoric from North Korea escalated, with new warnings of a "merciless" assault if further provoked, a top Chinese official made a last-minute visit to Seoul to confer with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. Washington and Seoul have urged China, North Korea's main ally and benefactor, to help defuse the situation amid fears of all-out war. Beijing has called for restraint on all sides.Lee pressed State Councilor Dai Bingguo, a senior foreign policy adviser, to contribute to peace in a "more objective, responsible" matter, and warned that Seoul would respond "strongly" to any further provocation, his office said in a statement.Dai forwarded Beijing's condolences and pledged China's help in preventing tensions from worsening, Lee's office said.Meanwhile, the chairman of North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly, Choe Thae Bok, was due to visit Beijing starting Tuesday, China's official Xinhua News Agency said.The border between North and South Korea is among the world's most heavily fortified, with the peninsula still technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 war ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.North Korea also disputes the maritime border drawn by U.N. forces at the close of the war, and considers the waters around Yeonpyeong Island - 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the South Korean port of Incheon but just 7 miles (11 kilometers) from the North Korean mainland - its territory.The area has seen several bloody skirmishes, including the sinking of a South Korean warship eight months ago, killing 46 sailors. An international team of investigators concluded that a North Korean torpedo sank the ship, but Pyongyang denies any involvement.Tuesday's attack on the island, which has military bases as well as a civilian population of 1,300 who mostly make their living from fishing, marked a new level of hostility. Two marines and two civilians were killed, and 18 others wounded, when the North rained artillery on Yeonpyeong in one of the worst assaults since the Korean War.North Korea said Saturday the civilian deaths were "regrettable," but blamed South Korea for staging military drills against Pyongyang's warnings that it would consider such exercises a provocation. Pyongyang accused Seoul of using Yeonpyeong's residents as human shields.The North Korea military also has mounted conventional, surface-to-air SA-2 missiles on launch pads on a west coast base, aiming them at South Korean fighter jets flying near the western sea border, the Yonhap news agency reported, citing an unidentified South Korean government source. …

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