Naval drills raise temperature in Korean peninsula once more

Pyongyang threatens action if any shells fall on its territory during joint US and South Korean exercises

US Navy  amphibious assault ship USS Boxer. Naval exercises off the Korean peninsula are giving rise to more tensions in the region. Photograph: AP Photo/US Navy, Dominique M Lasco

US Navy amphibious assault ship USS Boxer. Naval exercises off the Korean peninsula are giving rise to more tensions in the region. Photograph: AP Photo/US Navy, Dominique M Lasco

Wed, May 8, 2013, 08:00

North Korea threatened the United States and South Korea over the latest round of joint naval drills taking place this week in Yellow Sea waters, shortly before leaders of the allies meet for a summit in Washington.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been high, with the North Koreans angry about US-South Korean military drills and United Nations sanctions in March that sought to punish the North over its third nuclear test in February.

However, the situation has eased since last month when the North was threatening war on a daily basis. There were further signs of the situation becoming less fraught after a US official said North Korea had withdrawn two mobile ballistic missiles from a launch site in the eastern part of the country.

The news came just before US president Barack Obama was due to meet his South Korean counterpart, President Park Geun-hye, in Washington.


Threatened response
The North Korean People’s Army responsible for operations in the country’s southwest threatened to hit back if any shells fell in its territory during the drills, which began on Monday and will end Friday.

Should the allies respond to that, the statement said, Pyongyang’s military would strike five South Korean islands along the maritime frontline between the countries. There are concerns that any skirmish on the peninsula could escalate into war.

Two attacks blamed on Pyongyang in 2010 killed 50 South Koreans, and Ms Park has repeatedly said Seoul would respond aggressively to another attack from the North. If Pyongyang conducts an attack similar to the 2010 shelling of an island that killed four South Koreans, “we will make them pay,” she said in a CBS interview.

The Korean peninsula remains technically in a state of war, as the three-year Korean War ended 60 years ago in an armistice, not a peace treaty. Meanwhile, China’s fourth largest lender, the Bank of China, said it had shut the account of a major North Korean bank after Washington accused the latter of helping finance Pyongyang’s banned nuclear weapons programme.