December 23, 2010 in Nation/World

S. Korea flashes power in drills

Military practices 20 miles from border
Foster Klug Associated Press

POCHEON, South Korea – South Korean tanks fired artillery today as the army and air force staged their largest air and ground drills of the year in a show of force a month after North Korea’s deadly shelling of a front-line island.

The drills, taking place at training grounds in mountainous Pocheon near the Koreas’ heavily fortified border, signaled South Korea’s determination to demonstrate and hone its military strength at the risk of further escalation with North Korea.

Vulcan artillery vehicles fired into a wide valley with numbers carved onto hills below as the army and air force launched the drills about 20 miles from the North Korean border.

They are the armed forces’ largest joint firing exercises this year, and the biggest-ever wintertime air and ground firing exercises, government and army officials said.

Exactly one month ago, routine South Korean live-fire drills from Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea triggered a shower of North Korean artillery that killed two marines and two construction workers. It was the first military attack on a civilian area since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.

North Korea, which claims the waters around the South Korean-held island lying just seven miles from its shores as its territory, accused the South of sparking the exchange by ignoring Pyongyang’s warnings against staging the live-fire drills near their disputed maritime border.

Amid international concerns of all-out war on the tense Korean peninsula, South Korea has pushed ahead with military exercises over the past several weeks, including live-fire drills from Yeonpyeong Island and Monday’s land-based exercises.

There was no immediate response from North Korea, which has shown restraint in recent days. The two Koreas remain technically at war because their 1950s conflict ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

The military tension over the past month has been the worst in more than a decade, and comes on the heels of the March sinking of a South Korean warship that Seoul blames on Pyongyang, but which North Korea denies attacking. Forty-six sailors died in that incident.

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