SEOUL - South Korea conducted live-fire military drills near its disputed sea boundary with North Korea yesterday despite Pyongyang’s threat to respond with a “merciless’’ attack.
North Korea did not carry out the threat as it focuses on internal stability two months after the death of longtime leader Kim Jong Il and prepares for nuclear disarmament talks with the United States later this week. But with American forces scheduled to conduct additional military exercises with ally South Korea over the next few months, tensions are expected to remain high in the region.
Washington and North Korea’s neighbors are closely watching how new leader Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s son, navigates strained ties with South Korea, the planned US-South Korean military drills, and a long-running standoff over the country’s nuclear weapons programs.
South Korea’s drills yesterday took place in an area of the Yellow Sea where a North Korean artillery attack in 2010 killed four South Koreans and raised fears of a wider conflict.
North Korea didn’t threaten similar South Korean firing drills in the area in January, but called the latest exercise a “premeditated military provocation’’ and warned that it would retaliate for what it considered an attack on its territory.
A North Korean officer told an Associated Press staffer in Pyongyang on Sunday that North Koreans would respond to any provocation with “merciless retaliatory strikes.’’
North Korea is prepared for a “total war,’’ and the drills will lead to a “complete collapse’’ of ties between the Koreas, the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried yesterday by the official Korean Central News Agency. Such rhetoric has been typical of North Korean media in the past.
Later yesterday, South Korean troops on five islands near the disputed sea boundary fired artillery into waters southward, away from North Korea, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said.
North Korea’s military maintained increased vigilance during the drills, which ended after about two hours, a South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff officer said.