North Korea stages artillery drill, warns of war


SEOUL: North Korea staged an artillery drill on Friday within earshot of a South Korean island shelled earlier this week, and warned that an upcoming US-South Korean naval exercise heightens the risk of war.
Seoul named a former military chief as its new defence minister to try to restore confidence in the armed forces, after their allegedly feeble response to Tuesday’s deadly bombardment of Yeonpyeong island. China, the North’s sole major ally, warned on Friday against military activity in its exclusive economic zone, echoing remarks it made a day earlier opposing the war games.
The distant sound of the latest shelling sent residents of the front-line border island scrambling for air raid shelters, though South Korea said it appeared to be an exercise and no shells landed on its territory. The top US commander in South Korea, General Walter Sharp, visited Yeonpyeong during the brief panic.
He denounced Tuesday’s attack – which killed two civilians and two marines, injured 18 other people and set buildings ablaze – as a violation of the armistice which ended the 1950-53 war. The bombardment was the first to hit civilian areas in the South since the war and sparked widespread anger. Seoul’s response drew strong criticism from newspapers and Kim Tae-Young stepped down Thursday as defence minister.
President Lee Myung-Bak on Friday named Kim Kwan-Jin, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the post. Hong said the new minister, 61, was expected “to restore people’s trust in the military and enhance military morale”.
A US aircraft carrier battle group was heading for the Yellow Sea for the four-day drill starting Sunday, a show of force designed to deter the North. Pyongyang, unrepentant over its barrage, criticised “the US imperialists and South Korean puppet war-like forces” for what it called an exercise in “sabre-rattling”.
“The situation on the Korean peninsula is inching closer to the brink of war due to the reckless plan of those trigger-happy elements to stage again the war exercises targeted against the (North),” its official news agency said.
Pyongyang has used such language frequently in the past. It was unclear whether it would try to disrupt the drill. China has previously come out strongly against such exercises in its backyard, saying they risk exacerbating tensions.
On Friday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: “We hold a consistent and clear-cut stance on the issue. We oppose any party to take any military actions in our exclusive economic zone without permission.”