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S Korea holds live-fire drill as UN diplomacy breaks down

A file photo.

YEONPYEONG ISLAND (S KOREA) (AFP): South Korea held a live-fire drill on a border island and scrambled fighter aircraft Monday, despite North Korean threats of retaliation, as UN diplomacy on the crisis broke down.

But in an apparent sign of compromise over its nuclear ambitions, the North agreed with US troubleshooter Bill Richardson to permit the return of UN atomic inspectors to ease tensions, CNN reported.

The defence ministry said the drill began around 2:30 pm (0530 GMT) and ended just after 4 pm. "Our armed forces are now on alert and fighter aircraft are on airborne alert," a ministry spokesman said.

Yonhap news agency said two destroyers had also been deployed in the Yellow Sea south of the disputed border.

An emergency UN Security Council meeting failed to agree a statement on the crisis and Russia warned that the international community was now left without "a game plan" to counter escalating tensions.

North Korea used a similar exercise by South Korean marines on November 23 to justify a bombardment of Yeonpyeong that killed four people including civilians and damaged dozens of homes.

It threatened another attack in response to the latest drill that would be "deadlier... in terms of the powerfulness and sphere of the strike".

"The military must take every possible step to cope with possible provocations by North Korea," the South's Defence Minister Kim Kwan-Jin said after the drill started.

President Lee Myung-Bak ordered all government officials on emergency standby.

The United States, which had some 20 troops on the island backing up the drill, stood by the South's right to self-defence. Japan urged North Korea not to take any "provocative action" in response.

The North disputes the Yellow Sea border drawn by United Nations forces after the 1950-53 war. It claims the waters around Yeonpyeong, where shells land after firing exercises, as its own.

Its military appeared to be preparing for a counter-attack, removing covers from coastal artillery guns and forward-deploying some batteries, a military source told Yonhap.

CNN correspondent Wolf Blitzer, who is travelling with Richardson in Pyongyang, said there were signs of deal-making in nuclear matters.

North Korea had agreed with Richardson to let inspectors from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency return to its Yongbyon nuclear complex, Blitzer said.


S Korea   N Korea  drill  

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