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S.Korea stays on guard despite N.Korea concessions

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2010 at 9:34 am

A wary South Korea stayed on alert Tuesday despite North Korea’s failure to retaliate for a live-fire drill, as the United States expressed scepticism about Pyongyang’s reported nuclear concessions.


Hours after the South defied North Korea’s threats to stage the exercise near the disputed sea border, the North’s military announced Monday it “did not feel any need to retaliate against every despicable military provocation”.

South Korean marines patrol on the South Korea-controlled island of Yeonpyeong

The comments eased fears of war on the peninsula, following almost a month of high tensions.


The North used a similar artillery drill on Yeonpyeong island on November 23 as a pretext for a bombardment of the island which killed four people including civilians and damaged dozens of homes.


Pyongyang had threatened an even deadlier attack if Monday’s drill went ahead, only to change tack with an unusual display of restraint, which came after China blocked efforts at the UN Security Council to condemn the North.


The South’s military, accused of responding feebly to last month’s attack, said it would keep its guard up.


“This is the most serious crisis in our national defence since the (1950-53) Korean War,” Defence Minister Kim Kwan-Jin told parliament Tuesday.


“We are maintaining thorough military readiness at sea including Yeonpyeong island against possible provocations by the North,” Kim said, promising strong retaliation for any future attack.


The North’s softer stance coincided with apparent concessions on its nuclear programmes to visiting US politician Bill Richardson.


The New Mexico governor, a veteran troubleshooter with the North, said it had offered to re-admit UN nuclear inspectors and to negotiate the sale of fuel rods — capable of producing bomb-making plutonium — to a third party.


The North, Richardson said, had also proposed a military commission grouping the two Koreas and the United States to prevent conflicts in disputed areas of the Yellow Sea, and to reconnect a crisis hotline.


North Korea in April 2009 pulled out of six-nation nuclear disarmament talks and ordered US and UN nuclear inspectors out of the country. It staged its second nuclear test a month later.


The US State Department expressed scepticism.


“North Korea talks a great game. They always do. The real issue is what will they do,” said spokesman Philip Crowley.


“If they are agreeable to returning IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors to their country, they have to tell the IAEA that.


“We’ve seen a string of broken promises by North Korea going back many, many years.”


The South, deploying warships and jet fighters to guard against any counterstrike, went ahead with its artillery drill Monday after the UN Security Council failed to agree a statement to ease the crisis.


China blocked moves to criticise its ally the North for last month’s attack, diplomats said.

A senior Seoul government official said the North’s decision not to retaliate was partly swayed by diplomatic concerns.

“I think North Korea does not want to be diplomatically isolated and targeted by all (key) members of the Security Council,” he told reporters on condition of anonymity.

The official said recent provocations were linked to North Korean efforts to strengthen the status of Kim Jong-Un as eventual successor to his father, leader Kim Jong-Il.

Similar attacks were staged in the 1980s when Kim Jong-Il was trying to bolster his own status as a strong and capable future leader, he said. “This is the same situation, different people.”

The official also said the North may not have attacked on Monday because the South’s military was fully prepared. “North Korea has already implied it might be tempted to make another strike or provocation — we have to watch.”

Source: SGGP

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