S.Korea resists pressure to cancel live-fire drill

 South Korea Sunday resisted pressure from Russia and China to cancel a live-fire exercise on a frontier island bombarded by North Korea last month.

The North has threatened "disaster" if the South stages the drill on Yeonpyeong Island near the disputed Yellow Sea border, where four people were killed in November.

"We have no plan to cancel our exercise," a South Korean defence ministry spokesman told AFP, adding the one-day drill may take place on Monday or Tuesday.

The sun rises over South Korean Navy Movement Sea Base (MSB) off the South Korea-controlled island of Yeonpyeong near the disputed waters of the Yellow Sea, on December 19
The sun rises over South Korean Navy Movement Sea Base (MSB) off the South Korea-controlled island of Yeonpyeong near the disputed waters of the Yellow Sea, on December 19

The flare-up, coming in the wake of nuclear-armed North Korea revealing a uranium enrichment programme, has sparked alarm around the world.

On Sunday, a South Korean military aircraft was flying over Yeonpyeong, with marines on patrol near their seaside barracks.

The foreign ministers of China and Russia held telephone talks Saturday and called for restraint on the Korean peninsula as the UN Security Council prepared to hold talks over the situation.

"China firmly opposes any actions to cause tension and worsen the situation, and demands both sides on the peninsula show calmness and restraint," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said.

The Koreas must "carry out dialogue and contact, and completely avoid any actions that would fuel the tension," Yang said.

China, North Korea's sole major ally, has refrained from condemning Pyongyang over the bombardment despite calls for it to use its influence to intervene in the crisis.

The UN Security Council called a meeting for Sunday. Russia expressed anger that it was not organised earlier.

"We regret that. We believe that such a step by the president is a departure from the practice existing in the council," Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said.

The United States rejected criticism of the arrangements for the meeting.

"This meets other Security Council members' requests to have time to consult with their capitals and meets the Russian request for a timely meeting," said US mission spokesman Mark Kornblau.

The UN Security Council has yet to make any statement over North Korea's artillery attack last month, which left two marines and two civilians dead and damaged dozens of homes.

China has blocked demands for a strongly worded statement against Pyongyang and talks over a text are now in deadlock.

The first shelling of civilian areas since the 1950-53 war sparked outrage in the South, which rushed more troops and guns to frontline islands.

North Korea Saturday predicted "disaster" if South Korea goes ahead with the artillery exercise.

A foreign ministry statement accused US troops -- some 20 of whom who will take part in the drill -- of providing a "human shield" for the event.

The North said the exercise "would make it impossible to prevent the situation on the Korean peninsula from exploding and escape its ensuing disaster".

It said its military has already threatened "decisive and merciless punishment" for such an action and "does not make an empty talk".

US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley on Friday defended the South's right to hold the drill in the face of North Korea's "ongoing provocations".

He said Washington trusts that the South "will be very cautious in terms of what it does".

US politician Bill Richardson, who is visiting Pyongyang, described the situation as a "tinderbox".

Richardson, a veteran troubleshooter who has previous experience with the North, said he urged Pyongyang officials to let the South go ahead with the drill.

"I'm urging them extreme restraint," the New Mexico governor told CNN, saying he was "very, very strong with foreign ministry officials" during a dinner on Friday.

Other news