News / Asia

South Korea Prepares for Live Fire Artillery Exercises Near Border

South Korean Marines patrol on Yeonpyeong island, South Korea, ahead of expected live-fire artillery exercises, Dec. 20, 2010.
South Korean Marines patrol on Yeonpyeong island, South Korea, ahead of expected live-fire artillery exercises, Dec. 20, 2010.

The United Nations Security Council's emergency talks on easing Korean tensions have ended without an agreement, just hours before South Korea was due to begin an artillery exercise on the border island that North Korean guns attacked last month.

North Korea has warned there could be "catastrophic" effects if the South Korean military goes ahead with its plans in the disputed area around Yeonpyeong Island.

As preparations went ahead Monday for the live-fire drill - a military exercise using live ammunition - the South Korean military ordered everyone on Yeonpyeong and adjacent islands into air-raid shelters.

There were unconfirmed reports that the artillery exercise would be delayed several hours, until the afternoon, due to foggy weather.  

The focus of the crisis shifted to the Korean peninsula after diplomatic efforts collapsed at U.N. headquarters in New York.

Russian U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin emerged from hours of talks late Sunday and told reporters that Security Council members could not agree on wording of a statement urging the two Koreas to exercise "extreme restraint."   Churkin said it would be better if South Korea did not hold military drills at this time, but at that moment journalists and others on the islands were already being ordered to take shelter.  

The U.S. ambassador at the U.N., Susan Rice, said most Security Council members wanted a strongly worded condemnation of North Korea's two attacks on the South this year.  However, Rice said several nations - presumably including China, North Korea's closest ally - would not agree.  

The U.S. envoy, speaking separately after the Security Council session ended, also reiterated Washington's view that South Korea has the right to conduct military drills in the Yellow Sea, and has done so without any deception.

Seoul says hostile action by North Korea has killed at least 50 of its citizens this year.

North Korea's November 23 attack on Yeonpyeong Island killed four people, including two civilians, and an explosion on March 26 that sank a South Korean warship in the same area killed 46 sailors.   An international investigation concluded the ship was sunk by a North Korean torpedo, but Pyongyang has vehemently denied any role in the sinking.

During the emergency talks at the U.N. Sunday, Churkin said Security Council members discussed appointing an international envoy to begin diplomatic talks with both sides.  The Russian diplomat said the talks started too late to pursue that goal, and that too many members were unable to act without consulting their governments about the wording of any statement.

Rice said she would not expect the Council to agree on a joint statement regardless how long the meeting lasted.

No one would name the countries to which they were referring.

Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson has been in North Korea trying to resolve the tense situation, and he told a reporter (for CNN) Sunday that his talks in Pyongyang had made "some progress."  Specifically, Richardson, said a North Korean general was receptive to his proposal for setting up a hotline between North and South Korean forces.  

Richardson's four-day trip to North Korea was due to end Monday.

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