M A I N   N E W S

North Korea warns against naval drills

Seoul, November 27
Hours before joint naval exercises by the US and the South Korean navy on the Yellow Sea were scheduled to begin on Sunday, tension mounted in the Korean peninsula with North Korea warning that if the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, George Washington, does go ahead with the drill, “no one can predict the ensuing consequences”.

It would be an “unpardonable provocation”, declared N. Korea on Saturday and promised “a sea of fire” if its territory was violated.

Tension has escalated in the region after North Korea shelled an island, Yeonpyeong, for an hour on Tuesday in which two S. Korean marines and two civilians were killed. N. Korea claimed to have been provoked into shelling the island following firing by S. Korean marines stationed in the island. While S. Korea admits that a firing exercise was on at the time, it claims that the practice shelling was directed into the sea. In any case such exercises had taken place regularly in the past, it added.

While the United States has been urging China to restrain Pyongyang (the North Korean capital), the Chinese foreign ministry on Saturday objected to military exercises in its economic zone ‘without its permission’. 

While economic waters extend to 200 nautical miles off the coastline, the territorial waters extend to 12 nautical miles off the coast. In 2001 Chinese fighters had intercepted a US spy plane over the sea and forced it to land. Washington again reiterated that the naval exercises had been planned long back and were meant to deter North Korea and was not aimed at China. The new South Korean Defence Minister, Kim Kwan Jin, however added to the uncertainty on Saturday by vowing, “ We will repay North Korea a thousand-fold for killing and harming our marines” even as the funeral was held of the four men killed on Tuesday. There is rising anger in Seoul as people demanded retaliation and revenge.

In response, North Korea declared that civilian deaths were ‘regrettable’ but accused Seoul of using civilians as human shields. The five disputed islands off the North Korean coast were abandoned by Pyongyang during the Korean war ( 1950-53) because it did not have a strong enough naval force to counter the US Navy. The islands since then are heavily manned by S. Korean marines with a sprinkling of fishermen.

While a ceasefire was declared in 1953 ( after an estimated 2 million Korean civilians and 30 thousand US troops were killed in the war), technically the two Koreas have been at war because no peace treaty was ever signed.

Experts believe that Tuesday’s shelling was designed to drive away civilians from the disputed islands and to boost the image of the designated successor and son of N. Korean strongman, Kim Jong-il, who is believed to be ailing.

Meanwhile, hectic attempts were on to defuse the crisis. — Agencies





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