North Korea 'readies missiles'

US, S Korea begin military exercises; China calls for emergency consultations

South Korean soldiers take part in a military drill on the beach in Malipo, north western South Korea, on Sunday. APSouth Korean President Lee Myung-bak told a visiting Chinese delegation that Beijing, North Korea’s only major ally which is traditionally reluctant to criticise the reclusive regime, should do more to help.

Meanwhile, efforts to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula gathered pace on Sunday as China, a close ally of North Korea, called for “emergency consultations” among nations of the six-party talks on North Korean nuclear disarmament.

China said heads of the delegations of six countries, including the US, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas besides China should hold talks next month.

Yonhap said North Korea had moved surface-to-air missiles to frontline areas, days after it shelled a tiny South Korean island killing four people. The North’s official KCNA news agency warned of retaliatory action if its territory is violated.

“We will deliver a brutal military blow on any provocation which violates our territorial waters,” KCNA said.

Officials from South Korea’s defence ministry and the joint chiefs said they could not comment on the Yonhap report. “It is impossible to confirm the report as it is classified as military secret,” an official said.

The exercises, in waters far south of the disputed maritime boundary, are being held in the face of opposition by China and threats of “consequences” from North Korea.

The chairman of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly will visit China from Tuesday, the official Xinhua news agency said. Lee told Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo, who outranks foreign minister Yang Jiechie, that Beijing, with its growing international influence, should do more to help ensure peace.

“We ask that China make a contribution to peace on the Korean peninsula by taking a more fair and responsible position on South-North Korea ties,” the presidential Blue House quoted Lee as telling Dai.

“The Chinese side conveyed the message of condolences for the South Korean victims of the Yeonpyeong incident and said it would make efforts to prevent the situation from deteriorating for the sake of peace between the South and North,” Lee’s spokesman said.

Lee said that the attack on civilians, coming after the revelation of the North’s highly uranium enrichment programme, was a grave change in the situation.

Washington said the drill is intended as a deterrent after the worst assault on South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

Officials and journalists on the island, Yeonpyeong, were briefly evacuated to bunkers on Sunday, a witness said. The order was later withdrawn. There has been no disruption of air and shipping routes.

The nuclear-powered carrier USS George Washington, which carries 75 warplanes and has a crew of over 6,000, has joined the exercises and will be accompanied by at least four other US warships, an official from the US Forces Korea (USKF) said.

South Korea has deployed three destroyers, frigates and anti-submarine aircraft, Yonhap news agency reported, adding that the exercises were being held far south of the disputed area where the artillery firing took place on Tuesday.

“The drills have started and of course the carrier joined the exercises. But I cannot give any further details,” said the USKF official, asking not to be identified.

Lee has told ministers and aides to be ready for further “provocation” by North Korea during the military show of force.


South orders scribes to vacate island

The South Korea’s government ordered journalists to leave a front-line island on Sunday, citing tensions with North Korea, hours after the US and South Korea launched a round of war games in Korean waters, AP reports from Yeonpyeong Island.

The South Korean Defence minister said journalists must leave because the “situation is not good” on Yeonpyeong Island, which was targeted last week by a deadly North Korean barrage.

Earlier on Sunday, the sound of new artillery fire from North Korea sent residents and journalists on a front-line island, scrambling for cover. None of the rounds landed on Yeonpyeong Island, military officials said.

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