South Korea holds civil defence drill amid tension

Last Updated: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - 21:08

Seoul (South Korea): Air raid sirens
blared as hundreds of thousands of South Koreans donned gas
masks today in a nationwide civil defence drill, as Seoul`s
defence chief said North Korea has bolstered its military
readiness amid tensions over the sinking of a South Korean
warship.

Although both Koreas have exchanged harsh rhetoric and
increased their military vigilance in recent weeks, Seoul
officials have said it is unlikely renewed tension would lead
to all-out war.
The defence drill was the first on a nationwide scale
for possible chemical, biological and radiological attacks
since 1989, the National Emergency Management Agency said. It
said the exercise was resumed in the aftermath of the ship
sinking in March that South Korea blamed on North Korea.

"Now, North Korea is maintaining a considerably
strengthened vigilance posture and as you know it`s been
issuing many threats and statements through various channels,"
South Korean Defence Minister Kim Tae-young told the National
Assembly today.

"But there have been no serious military activities at
the border and in rear areas."

The UN Security Council said late yesterday it is
"gravely concerned" the ship sinking could endanger peace on
the peninsula and urged both Koreas to refrain from any
provocative acts. A statement was issued after the council
listened to separate presentations from each side, with Seoul
seeking UN action to punish Pyongyang.
South Korea has taken punitive measures against North
Korea, including trade restrictions, after the warship Cheonan
was sunk by a torpedo attack in March, killing 46 sailors.
North Korea flatly denies its involvement and has warned any
retaliation would trigger war, with its military threatening
on Saturday to turn Seoul into "a sea of flame."

Kim said South Korea was closely watching North
Korea`s military because it may engage in provocative acts
anytime.

At the UN Security Council meeting, South Korea made a
23-minute presentation and showed a video on the findings it
reached with US, British and other foreign investigators.

North Korea repeated its stance that it had nothing to
do with the sinking.

"We are just a victim," North Korea`s deputy UN
ambassador Pak Tok Hun told reporters before heading into his
closed-door meeting with the council. "So we`d like to make
our position clear here."

UN diplomats familiar with contacts on possible
council action said China, the North`s closest ally, is
opposed to a third round of sanctions against Pyongyang and
indicated the more likely result will be a presidential
statement. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity
because the contacts have been private.

A presidential statement is considered a weaker form
of rebuke than the imposition of sanctions.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak renewed calls
today for international action to get North Korea to
acknowledge and apologise for the ship sinking, according to
the presidential office.

The two Koreas are still technically at war because
their 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace
treaty. The sinking occurred near the tense Korean sea border
- a scene of three bloody maritime battles.

PTI



First Published: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - 21:08

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