12/23/2010, 00.00
KOREA
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After seven years, Christmas tree on border with North

The 30-metre tree will be visible to North Koreans living across the border. Its lights were switched on last night as Christians sang Christmas carols. In the meantime, Seoul launches its most important military drills in years.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – After seven years, the lights of a Christmas tree were officially switched on at Aegibong Peak, less than two kilometres from the border that divides the Korean peninsula. North Korea condemned the act as “propaganda”. The practice had been suspended as a goodwill gesture to Pyongyang. The decision by the Lee Myung-bak administration to put up the tree signals that it is no longer willing to bend to northern threats.

The 30-metre tree will be clearly visible across the border where electrical power is rationed. An audience of about 200 listened as they sang Joy to the World and other carols.

"I hope that Christ's love and peace will spread to the North Korean people," said Lee Young-hoon, a pastor of the Seoul church that organised the lighting ceremony. However, the gesture is also another clear signal to the North.

In fact, today South Korea’s largest war games on land began. President Lee said if the North attacked, the South would launch a counter-attack.

Wearing camouflage, he inspected military units deployed along the militarised border as army (artillery and tanks) and the air force carried out their drills nearby.

The exercises are taking place at the Pocheon firing range, 25 kilometres from the demilitarised zone (DMZ).

For its part, North Korea slammed the drill, attacking warmongers in Seoul, but did not mention its usual threats of devastating retaliation.

“I thought patience would bring peace to this land but I was wrong,” Lee said during a visit to a frontline army unit near the eastern border.

The South Korean navy is also conducting a four-day exercise off the east coast, which began on Wednesday, about a 100 kilometres from the maritime border dividing the two Korea, which Pyongyang does not recognise.

This is the fourth round of war games by South Korea in recent months, one jointly with the United States.

On 23 November, four South Koreans were killed on Yeonpyeong Island during shelling by North Korea.

Washington has called on Pyongyang to keep calm and stressed South Korea’s right to conduct military drills on its territory.

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