Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.


South Korea cancels gun drill

29 November 2010, 21:10

Seoul - South Korea's military announced provocative new artillery drills on the front-line island shelled in a deadly North Korean attack, then immediately postponed them on Monday in a sign of disarray hours after the president vowed to get tough on the North.

Similar live-fire manoeuvres by South Korean troops one week earlier triggered the North's bombardment that decimated parts of Yeonpyeong Island, killed four people and drew return fire in a clash that set the region on edge.

The new drills originally planned for Tuesday could have had even higher stakes: South Korean and American warships are currently engaged in separate military exercises in waters to the south.

Officials at the Joint Chiefs of Staff told The Associated Press on Monday that the latest drills were postponed after the marine unit on the island mistakenly announced them without getting final approval from higher military authorities.

The cancellation had nothing to do with North Korea, and the drills will take place later, one official said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing agency rules.

Pyongyang had warned last week that it would consider any South Korean drills off Yeonpyeong Island a deliberate provocation and territorial violation, and urged Seoul to call off last week's exercises. The artillery attack that came after South Korea went ahead with its drills killed four and injured 18 people.

Earlier on Monday, President Lee Myung-bak gave his first address to the nation in nearly a week, taking responsibility for failing to protect his citizens, expressing outrage at the North's "ruthlessness" and vowing tough consequences for any future aggression.

Live-fire drills

Lee has come under withering criticism for what opponents have called lapses in South Korea's response to the attack just eight months after the sinking of a South Korean warship in nearby waters that killed 46 sailors.

Hours after his speech, authorities on Yeonpyeong Island announced new live-fire drills for Tuesday morning, warning residents by loudspeaker to take shelter in underground bunkers well in advance.

Another announcement later in the evening said there would be no exercise.

Meanwhile, a nuclear-powered US supercarrier and a South Korean destroyer carried out joint military exercises in the waters south of the island in a united show of force by the long time allies.

Jets roared off an aircraft carrier as part of drills to practice air defence, combat warfare and search-and seizure drills, said Rear Admiral Dan Cloyd, commander of the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group.

Lee observed the drills on Monday from the US Army's command centre in Seoul, along with General Walter Sharp, the top commander in South Korea, in a pointed show of unity.

"This exercise demonstrates our interoperability and how closely integrated the ROK-US forces are along with the capability both bring in defence of the peninsula that is the cornerstone of regional stability," Sharp said in a statement posted by the military, using the acronym for the Republic of Korea, the South's formal name.

Worry over nuclear weapons

Amid the heightened tension, classified US State Department documents leaked on Sunday by online whistle-blower WikiLeaks showed the United States and South Korea discussing possible scenarios for reunification of the peninsula, and American worry over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme.

Under pressure to take stronger action in dealing with the defiant North, Lee lashed out at Pyongyang on Monday.

"Only a few meters away from where shells landed, there is a school where classes were going on," Lee said. "I am outraged by the ruthlessness of the North Korean regime, which is even indifferent to the lives of little children."

In the past week, Lee has replaced his defence minister, ordered reinforcements for the 4 000 troops on Yeonpyeong and four other Yellow Sea islands, and upgraded the military rules of engagement.

"If the North commits any additional provocations against the South, we will make sure that it pays a dear price without fail," Lee warned.

Minutes later, North Korea issued another threat to attack South Korea and the United States, calling the allies' joint war drills "yet another grave military provocation".

The two Koreas are required to abide by an armistice signed in 1953 at the close of their brutal, three-year war.

Three deadly skirmishes

However, North Korea does not recognise the maritime border drawn by the UN at the close of the war, and considers the waters around Yeonpyeong Island - just 11km from its shores - its territory.

The waters have been the site of three deadly skirmishes since 1999, as well as last week's artillery attack and the sinking of the Cheonan warship.

Yeonpyeong Island, normally home to about 1 300 civilian residents, was declared a special security area on Monday, which could pave the way for a forced evacuation of those left on the island.

Military trucks carrying what appeared to be multiple rocket launchers were seen heading to a marine base on the island on Monday.

Long-range artillery guns and a half-dozen K-9 howitzers were also on their way, the Yonhap news agency reported, citing unnamed military officials.

China, North Korea's only major ally, sought to calm tensions. Beijing's top nuclear envoy Wu Dawei, has called for an emergency meeting among regional powers involved in nuclear disarmament talks, including North Korea.

Seoul, which wants proof of Pyongyang's commitment to denuclearisation as well as a show of regret over the Cheonan incident, reacted coolly to the proposal.

In Tokyo, Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan reiterated on Monday that his government would work with Seoul and Washington on how to counter North Korea's "reckless" acts.

Yeonpyeong Island was a charred, wrecked shell of the former fishing community it was before last week's artillery attack. Only 300 people are left, including a few residents, many more journalists, and some officials.

Among those left on the island was a band of orphaned dogs, rescued on Monday by animal rights activists.

One puppy with floppy ears peeked out of a rescuer's backpack while being carried across a plank onto the boat to the mainland.

- AP


Read News24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Read more from our Users

Submitted by
Eugene Odanga
WATCH: Kaka Sungura arrested in t...

Was Kaka Sungura arrested in town?

Submitted by
Victor Tinto
Confused Jubilee afraid of me, Ki...

The Jubilee Party is afraid of me, Evans Kidero says. Read more...

Submitted by
Victor Tinto
Sonko ready for Peter Kenneth bat...

Nairobi Senator Mike Mbuvi Sonko says that he is ready to take on Peter Kenneth in Nairobi Gubernatorial nominations come 2017. Read more...

Submitted by
Victor Tinto
Uhuru wants change in Constitutio...

The Jubilee Coalition is planning to change the Constitution and add President Uhuru Kenyatta another term, Kalonzo Musyoka claims. Read more...

Submitted by
William Korir
CORD to stop Jubilee efforts to r...

The CORD Coalition will not allow plans to remove Kenya from the Rome Statutes take place, it has said. Read more...

Submitted by
William Korir
How long will it take Kenya to le...

Kenya is looking to leave the ICC. But what is the process behind the exit? Read more...