12/20/2010, 00.00
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War games between the two Koreas as UN mediation fails

At dawn, Seoul began a drill in the sea near Yeonpyeong Island, shelled on 23 November by North Korea. Pyongyang threatens to retaliate. Russia and China stop a resolution that would have blamed Pyongyang for the shelling of the island. The US defends South Korea’s right to carry out the drill. In South Korea, the opposition criticises the decision to hold the games.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – South Korea has begun war games off the disputed Yeonpyeong Island, which was shelled by North Korea last 23 November, killing two soldiers and two civilians. Residents of Yeonpyeong and neighbouring islands have been ordered to take shelter and wear gas masks just in case of an attack from the North.

Seoul was determined to conduct the drill after facing a barrage of domestic criticism for its perceived weak response to the recent North Korean attack. For its part, North Korea has vowed strong retaliation if the drill proceeds, and said that it was making preparations for a counter-attack, removing covers from coastal artillery guns and forward-deploying some batteries.

After saying that war games would go ahead as scheduled, South Korea’s Defence minister announced the deployment of two destroyers to the Yellow (Western) Sea. He also said that Seoul would hit back hard with its strong air power, if it were attacked again by the North.

An attempt to reduce tensions failed at the Unites Nations last night, blamed on divisions over whether to condemn North Korea directly for the Yeongpyeong Island incident, with Russia and China calling for the statement to be neutral.

Vitaly Churkin, Russian envoy to the UN said that it would have been better if South Korea had not staged the war games.

However, for US envoy Susan Rice, “The planned exercises are fully consistent with South Korea’s legal right to self-defence”.

In South Korea, former unification minister Chung Dong-young said the exercises should have been abandoned.

“The risk of war is increasing more than ever before. The firing drill must be stopped,” he warned. “We should now pursue dialogue and diplomatic efforts instead of military exercises. In addition, I urge the US to perform a peacekeeping role. We must prevent war at all costs. The people do not want war.”

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