Relief as N Korean guns stay silent over exercises
North Korea said it would not react to "reckless" military drills by the South yesterday, despite an earlier threat to retaliate, and CNN reported that Pyongyang had agreed to the return of nuclear inspectors.
Air-raid bunkers on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong shook during the live-fire artillery exercise, which went on for more than 90 minutes.
But the North Korean guns that had shelled the island after a similar drill last month stayed silent, bringing a measure of relief in a crisis that raised fears of war along one of the world's most heavily fortified frontiers.
"The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK did not feel any need to retaliate against every despicable military provocation," the official KCNA news agency said, quoting a communique from the North Korean People's Army Supreme Command that called the drills a "childish play with fire".
The UN Security Council remained deadlocked in its efforts to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula, but North Korea's refraining from retaliation and the nuclear offer reportedly made to US trouble-shooter Bill Richardson offered some breathing space.
"The situation is very tense," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow. "There can be no optimism in this situation."
The United States, in a measured response, said North Korea's decision not to retaliate simply showed it was behaving "the way countries are supposed to act".
"The South Korean exercise was defensive in nature. The North Koreans were notified in advance. There was no basis for a belligerent response," State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said in an emailed statement.
The United States did not immediately respond to the report of North Korea's latest nuclear offer.
South Korean financial markets took the day's events in their stride, recovering from early falls, but international investors remained concerned, with the cost of insuring South Korean sovereign debt for five years rising 10pc.
The mercurial North had threatened it would strike back if its neighbour went ahead with the live-fire exercise.
On November 23, North Korean artillery had shelled Yeonpyeong, close to the disputed maritime border off the west coast of the Korean peninsula, killing four people, in the worst attack on South Korean territory since the Korean war ended in 1953.