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South Korea to Go Ahead with Live-Fire Drills

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 Korean military officials say they will proceed with planned live-fire artillery drills from an island the North shelled last month, despite threats of retaliation from Pyongyang.

An official with South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said Saturday the South's military is ready to respond to any possible provocation. He said the drills will not be carried out Saturday because of bad weather. But he said they will be conducted by Tuesday.

The official Korean Central News Agency quoted the North's military Friday as saying that if the drills are held, the "intensity and range" of its firepower will be more serious than when it shelled Yeonpyeong Island last month. Four people were killed in that attack.

The governor of the U.S. state of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, described the situation while visiting Pyongyang Friday as a "tinderbox." The veteran negotiator and former ambassador to the United Nations told CNN in a telephone interview that he urged North Korea to exercise extreme restraint. He said he appealed to the North to allow the South to go ahead with military exercises.

Richardson is in North Korea on a private mission to try to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula.

A U.S. State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, said Friday that there would be no justification for North Korea to take military action. He also said the United States is concerned about the situation and "trusts" that South Korea "will be very cautious" in what it does.

In Moscow, Russia summoned the South Korean and U.S. ambassadors to express "extreme concern" about the planned live-fire drills. During the meeting, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin urged South Korea and the United States to refrain from the drills to prevent an escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged North Korea to show restraint and called on both Koreas to reduce tensions on the peninsula.

On Thursday, a top U.S. general, Vice Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright, said there is concern in Washington of a possible "chain reaction" on the Korean peninsula if North Korea responds aggressively to the South's new exercises.