Monday, December 13, 2010

S. Korea To Stage Big Air Raid Drill Amid Tension With North

South Korea will stage a major civil defense drill this week against mock attacks by North Korean aircraft amid continuing high tensions after the North's bombardment last month, officials said Dec. 13.

The drill will take place at 2 p.m. (5 a.m. GMT) on Dec. 15, with a dozen South Korean fighter jets flying across the country to simulate air strikes, the National Emergency Management Agency said.

"Along with air raid sirens, people will be asked to run into some 25,000 state-managed shelters or other civilian underground facilities," said agency official Yoo Byung-Koo.

South Korea, which has remained technically at war with the communist North since their 1950-1953 conflict, usually conducts such drills without aircraft three times a year. They are widely ignored by the public.

"Unlike previous ones, Wednesday's drill will focus on guiding people into emergency shelters," Yoo said. "This will be the biggest exercise of its kind in many years. We hope people will take it seriously."

In border areas, he said, there would be simulated strikes by North Korea's ground artillery units.

The country has been on high alert since the North's Nov. 23 bombardment of an island near the disputed Yellow Sea border killed four people including civilians and triggered a regional crisis.

After the attack, the first on a civilian area since the war, Seoul staged a major naval drill with the United States in a show of strength against Pyongyang.

Last week, the South staged its own live-fire drills around the coast.

A similar week-long exercise began Dec. 13 at 27 venues off the coast but not near the disputed border, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

The top U.S. and South Korean military officers last week vowed more joint drills and promised a tough response to future attacks.

The North's ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun said Dec. 13 the two nations are conspiring to launch a war and "bringing the dark clouds of a nuclear war to hang over the Korean peninsula."

A series of diplomatic moves are also underway this week.

North Korea's foreign minister Pak Ui-Chun is visiting Russia, while U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg is to visit Beijing to press China to take stronger action against its ally the North.

South Korea's chief nuclear envoy is scheduled to visit Russia for talks with his counterpart Alexei Borodavkin.

And New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson will visit North Korea from Dec. 16-20 to try to calm tensions.

China has called for an emergency meeting on the crisis between chief delegates to stalled six-party talks on the North's nuclear disarmament.

The United States, Japan and South Korea have reacted coolly, saying the North must first mend ties with the South and show seriousness about disarmament.

Russia is the sixth member of the forum.

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