Wednesday, December 22, 2010

S. Korea To Hold Large-Scale Artillery Exercise

South Korea plans to hold major artillery training exercises including some in an area close to its disputed maritime border with the North, media in Seoul reported today. Analysts warned the move, which emerged as the South’s military completed joint drills with a US aircraft carrier group, increase tensions already running high in the wake of last attack by the North.

Analysts believe the most likely outcome of the current stand-off is further negotiations, and that North Korea’s actions are in part intended to push Seoul and Washington back towards talks based on giving the North aid in exchange for a pledge on scaling back its nuclear capabilities.

But some analysts warned that more military drills could escalate a delicate situation by angering the North. “The overall situation might be intensified and a new crisis might be brought by doing this,” said Professor Chu Shulong, an expert on international security at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. He added: “Because of the Cheonan incident in March and the shelling in Yeonpyeong, [South Korean] people are angry and their anger has not been addressed yet. They are not happy with the reaction of the government. “At the same time, South Korea cannot attack North Korea. They can only express their anger through military drills; it is their only way to show the determination to defend their country and to warn the North.”

Dr Leonid Petrov, an expert on the North at the University of Sydney, added: “Conservatives in Pyongyang and Seoul are driving the situation to a new extreme.” He argued that Lee’s choice was effectively to “either go to war with North Korea or reverse his policy and return to the sunshine policy [of his predecessors] and renege on his electoral promises”. Petrov added that the “responsible” course for the US would be to talk to the North.

According to the army, Thursday's exercise will be held at a firing range in Pocheon, about 25 miles northeast of Seoul, marking the largest of its kind as it involves some 800 troops and a total of 105 types of weapons, including the F-15K and KF-16 aircraft.

Participating assets include K-1 tanks, K-9 self-propelled howitzers, AH-1S Cobra attack helicopters, 500MD helicopters, AN/TPQ-36 artillery location radars, and METIS-M anti-tank missiles, an Army spokesman said. 130mm multiple launch rocket systems will also be involved in the training exercise.

"This is the first time that the Army has conducted an MLRS firing exercise with other artillery drills," a spokesman said. The MLRS can deliver almost 8,000 munitions in less than 60 seconds at ranges exceeding 32 kilometers, he said.

Beijing – under pressure to rein in its ally – threw the ball back into Washington’s court by calling for an emergency meeting of the six nations involved in the stalled aid-for-denuclearisation talks. But the US, South Korea and Japan have snubbed that proposal, instead planning to hold trilateral talks next week. “I think there has to be a seriousness on the part of the North Koreans to get back to these [six-party] talks,” said the White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs.

Japan sent its envoy to the nuclear talks to China. The senior North Korean leader Choe Thae Bok went to Beijing and China’s state councillor Dai Bingguo is expected to travel to Pyongyang shortly. A Russian nuclear envoy, Grigory Logvinov, will met officials in Seoul to discuss the attack, the six-party talks and other issues, said South Korea’s foreign ministry.

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