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S. Korea Reaffirms Intent to Conduct Live Fire Drill; North Vows Retaliation

South Korean marines stand guard on Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea, 17 Dec 2010

South Korean marines stand guard on Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea, 17 Dec 2010

South Korea's military says it is waiting for better weather to start a controversial live-firing artillery exercise. North Korea is threatening retaliation if the artillery drill goes ahead on
Yeonpyeong island. Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council is to hold an emergency meeting Sunday to discuss the high tension on the Korean peninsula.

South Korean defense officials say it is unfavorable weather, not diplomatic restraint, that is delaying a planned artillery drill on Yeonpyeong island.

North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong last month, hours after a similar South Korean exercise on the island. The November 23rd attack killed two South Korean marines and two civilians.

South Korean marines plan to fire - on Monday or Tuesday - howitzer and other artillery shells into the Yellow Sea from the western frontier island.

The firing is to be aimed southwest, away from North Korea. But some military experts are expressing concern, noting Pyongyang's vow to retaliate if the exercise goes ahead.

North Korea does not recognize the de facto maritime boundary, known as the Northern Limit Line. Statements from the government in Pyongyang warn that the South Korean exercise will provoke "tragic disasters" on the peninsula and the provocateurs will be punished with a firm and unmerciful military response.

U.S. military officials, such as Defense Department spokesman Col. David Lapan, are defending South Korea's right to go ahead with the artillery exercise.

"They do them all the time. It's on an established range," Lapan said. "Everyone has been notified. They have gone through all the protocols."

American bases in South Korea, where the United States has 28,000 troops, have not changed their alert level. In a statement (issued Saturday), the commander of the forces, Army General Walter Sharp, says there is no assessment of a threat increase because of the anticipated South Korean military drill.

Russia has called an emergency Sunday session of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the high tension on the Korean peninsula.

Moscow's U.N ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, says a message of restraint needs to be delivered to Pyongyang and there must be diplomatic action to resolve the issues between the two Koreas.

Both Russia and China have called for South Korea to cancel the one-day artillery drill.

China summoned ambassadors of both Koreas Saturday evening.

Other diplomatic efforts are underway to defuse the escalating situation.

A former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, is in Pyongyang for what is termed a private troubleshooting mission.

In a statement Sunday, Richardson said he has held three important meetings with top leaders of the foreign ministry and military and "strongly urged maximum restraint in response to South Korea's planned military drills."

The New Mexico governor is one of the few Americans to have made numerous visits to the communist state as an unofficial envoy