North Korea has threatened violent retaliation if the South goes through with a live-fire artillery drill this weekend. The South is planning to hold the training exercise on Yeonpyeong Island, the scene of the North Korean bombardment on Nov. 23 that left four South Koreans dead.
With tensions on the Korean peninsula at a peak, the South’s persistence in conducting the drill is being seen as a show of force to the North, but also as needlessly provocative given the tense state of affairs.
“It is appalling. If it was a bona fide need for artillery practice they have plenty of islands in the Western Sea,” Leonid Petrov, a professor at the University of Sydney who specializes in Korea, told the Guardian. “This is simply sending a message that the South is putting pressure on the North – but at the same time refuses to negotiate.”
If the South conducts the drill, the North has warned that the “strength and scope of the strike” will be “more serious” than its November attack, reports Iran's Press TV. Officials in Pyongyang insist that it attacked Yeonpyeong in November in response to previous South Korean live-fire training exercises.
American officials have come out in support of South Korea, saying that there is “nothing provocative or unusual or threatening” about the training exercise. The US, whose military conducts regular training exercises with the South, condemned North Korea for its attack on the South. American officials say the upcoming drills are a normal and necessary course of action for any sovereign nation, reports RTT News.
“South Korea is entitled to take appropriate steps in its self defense, making sure that its military is prepared in the event of further provocations. It is a perfectly legitimate step for South Korea to take. North Korea should not see these South Korean actions as a provocation,” said Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley, according to RTT News. “North Korea does not have to react to what South Korea plans to do.”
Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he worries that if North Korea reacts to the drill by firing at South Korean forces it could spark a “chain reaction,” reports Agence France-Presse. He added that under those circumstances he did not want international observers to “lose control of the escalation.” North Korea has been properly notified about the training exercise and Cartwright said that it is taking place at an established firing range.
The exercise is scheduled to take place for one day between Dec. 18 and 21, reports the BBC. American and United Nations military officials will oversee the training exercise, which will be the first since the attack almost four weeks ago.
The drill was originally scheduled to take place last month, but was delayed due to the North Korean attack. South Korean forces will fire munitions into a 24-by-12-mile area of water within their boundaries. The United Nations Command and the Military Armistice Commission has said that the drill will not violate any agreements between the North and the South, saying that the “armistice agreement applies to all territory in Korea of land, sea and air,” reports The Chosunilbo.