S Korea holds mass civil defence drill

Pavements in Seoul and other cities quickly emptied as pedestrians scurried into buildings and subway stations during the 15-minute exercise, the most extensive since a civil defence law was passed in 1975.

The military said 12 jet fighters were mobilised, with one overflying the capital of 10 million people, to simulate air strikes by the North.

Some Seoul residents found it hard to take the exercise seriously in a gleaming modern city which has been at peace since the end of the 1950-53 war.

“People don’t care about these exercises because we think the North Koreans will never hit Seoul,” said businessman Choi Duk-Soo, calling for more realistic drills.

But the National Emergency Management Agency said the situation is grave after the North’s deadly artillery attack on a border island on November 23—the first shelling of a civilian area in the South since the war.

“Public concern has been growing over North Korea’s provocations,” it said in a statement, citing continued military threats, high tensions in the Yellow Sea and the possibility of a third nuclear test by Pyongyang.

It says this is part of a peaceful atomic energy programme. But US experts say the plant could easily be reconfigured to produce weapons-grade uranium to augment the country’s plutonium stockpile.

The US State Department said on Tuesday the North has “at least one other” uranium enrichment site apart from the one disclosed at the Yongbyon complex.

“This remains a significant area of concern,” said spokesman Philip Crowley.
The New York Times, citing anonymous US administration officials, said the new facility was “significantly more advanced” than work done by Iran.

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper, quoting intelligence sources, said the North had dug a tunnel more than 500 metres deep at its nuclear test site in possible preparation for another test. “If progress goes on at the current pace, the North will have dug a cave one kilometre deep, the depth where it is possible to conduct a nuclear test, between March and May next year,” one official was quoted as saying.

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