North Korea Warns South Against Staging Military Drills


North Korea warned South Korea today that if it staged artillery drills on Yeonpyeong, the retaliation would be much stronger than last month's deadly attack on the island.

The North cautioned against similar drills before the shelling on 23 November, which killed four people, destroyed homes and revived fears of war on the peninsula.

South Korea plans to hold one-day, live-fire drills between tomorrow and Tuesday on Yeonpyeong, home to fishing communities and military bases. The island sits seven miles from the North. Seoul said the timing of the drills would depend on weather conditions and other factors and, despite the threats from the North, the exercises would go ahead as planned.

The North claims nearby waters and considers such drills an infringement of its territory. The assault last month was the first by Pyongyang to target a civilian area since the end of the 1950-53 war.

The shelling provoked anger and shock in the South, where TV screens and newspapers were filled with images of islanders fleeing their bombed-out, burning homes.

A senior North Korean military official said in comments published by the North's official Korean Central News Agency that if the South carried out further drills on Yeonpyeong "unpredictable self-defensive strikes will be made".

Pyongyang said the planned drills were an attempt "to save the face of the South Korean military, which met a disgraceful fiasco" during last month's clash.

The South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, has faced criticism that troops were unprepared for the strike on Yeonpyeong and reacted too slowly and weakly. He has since replaced his defence minister, Kim Tae-young, and pledged to increase the number of soldiers and weapons on islands along the Koreas' disputed western sea border.