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S. Korea Vows Counter-Attack If North Opens Fire During Drills


South Korean military officials say they are ready to respond if North Korea carries out its threat to attack during the South's latest military drills. The drills are part of South Korea's response to the sinking of one of its navy ships in March, an act blamed on Pyongyang.

South Korea's Defense Ministry says the exercise, which begins Thursday, will involve a submarine, a destroyer and nearly 30 other vessels, as well as aircraft. Forty-five hundred army, navy, air force and coast guard troops will be deployed.

Military officials say they will keep ships far south of a maritime border that North Korea disputes. But marines on islands near the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea will conduct live-fire exercises.

Navy Rear Admiral Kim Kyung-Sik says if North Korea makes good on its threat to open fire, South Korea "will stage an immediate counter-attack."

Admiral Kim says a close eye will be kept on the enemy. He adds South Korea's military will not tolerate provocations and is ready, during the drill, for any circumstances.

North Korea threatens "strong physical retaliation" in response to the South Korean exercise.

A respected daily newspaper in Seoul, the Chosun Ilbo, quotes a military source saying the North has repositioned some missiles near the border, posing a threat to South Korean military jets.

Defense official here say the five-day drill is the second in a series of war games to be staged this year in response to the attack on the Cheonan. The South Korean navy vessel sank in March after an explosion in the Yellow Sea, killing 46 sailors. An international investigation blames a North Korean torpedo for the sinking.

Last week, the United States joined South Korea in one of region's largest joint military exercises in recent years. The exercise in the Sea of Japan included an American aircraft carrier and stealth fighter jets.

South Korea's military had wanted to hold that exercise in the Yellow Sea, but China strongly objected because it would be close to its territorial waters.

China began its own air defense drills Tuesday. The Xinhua news agency says the five-day exercise involves 12,000 personnel in two provinces.

Later this month, the U.S. and South Korea hold an annual 10-day exercise, known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian.

The U.S. military say that drill is meant to ensure the allies are "fully prepared to respond to any potential provocations."

The latest military maneuvers come as the Korean peninsula marks 60 years since the start of the Korean War. Fighting ended in 1953 with a truce, but since Pyongyang and Seoul have never signed a peace treaty, they remain technically at war.

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