N Korea 'likely to attack again'


North Korea is highly likely to attack South Korea again, the South's spy chief said today, as a flotilla of American warships led by an aircraft carrier left South Korean waters after a deadly attack.

"There is a high possiblity that the North will make an additional attack," Won Sei-hoon, director of the National Intelligence Service, told a parliamentary committee meeting.

The South's defence minister, Kim Tae-young, has also warned there was an "ample possibility" the North might stage another provocation once a US-South Korea exercise ended today.

Won said wire-taps in August indicated Pyongyang was preparing for an attack off the west coast designed to smooth the way for Kim Jong-il's son to take over as leader, Yonhap news agency reported.

"In August this year, we confirmed North Korea's plan to attack five islands in the West Sea through wiretapping," he said. "We didn't expect the (North's) shelling on civilians, as North Korea has often made threatening remarks."

Last week, North Korea fired a barrage of artillery rounds at Yeonpyeong island in the first such attack on civilians on South Korean soil since the end of the 1950-53 Korean war. Two civilians were among the four killed.

Analysts say the attack was was an attempt to force the resumption of international negotiations that could bring it aid, or could be seen as an attempt to boost the militaristic credentials of the country's leader-in-waiting, Kim Jong-un.

Mr Won said the attack on Yeonpyeong island came as "internal complaints are growing about the North's succession for a third generation (of Kim family rule), and its economic situation is worsening".

Kim Jong-un is the youngest son of ailing leader Kim Jong-il.

China steadfastly stood by its ally North Korea today, refusing to bow to international pressure and condemn its actions at the United Nations.

Beijing said it would not favour any side but wanted to help resolve the dispute as a "responsible great power".

China, North Korea's only powerful ally, protected Pyongyang from censure by the UN Security Council for last week's deadly bombardment of Yeonpyeong, an attack many analysts believe was an attempt to force the resumption of international negotiations that could bring it aid.