Tuesday 23 January 2018

Two Koreas move to brink of war

Protesters burn a portrait of North Korea' s leader Kim Jong Il and the national flag in front of the Defense Ministry. Photo: AP
Protesters burn a portrait of North Korea' s leader Kim Jong Il and the national flag in front of the Defense Ministry. Photo: AP

Andrew Gilligan on the Korean border

North and South Korea moved closer to a war footing yesterday as tensions continued to rise around the Yellow Sea island targeted in last week's artillery strike.

Pyongyang moved SA2 surface-to-air missiles nearer to its Yellow Sea coast, according to South Korean military officials.

The officials said they also detected signs that North Korea was preparing multiple-launch rocket systems in the same area.

North Korea issued fresh warnings of military action, threatening "a merciless military counterattack" at any "intrusion" into its waters.

The rhetoric came as four days of US-South Korean naval exercises in the Yellow Sea got under way, a deployment which the Pyongyang regime says has brought the region to the "brink of war".

The US has also agreed to a South Korean request to deploy the E8-C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, used in the 1991 Gulf War, according to military sources. The deployment was approved by Robert Gates, the US defence secretary.

The former Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, became the first senior US figure to advocate "regime change" in North Korea, but insisted he was not supporting military action.

North Korea fired several artillery rounds inside its territory near the island of Yeongpyeong, triggering brief panic among journalists and the few remaining residents, who feared a repeat of Tuesday's attack. Everyone was ordered to take cover in bunkers for about 40 minutes.

Late yesterday, the South Korean government expelled all journalists from Yeongpyeong, saying it couldn't guarantee their safety.

It reacted coolly to a proposal by China for emergency talks. In its first significant intervention, Beijing, North Korea's closest ally, suggested an urgent meeting later this week of the six nations which have been negotiating over Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

The so-called "six-party talks," involving the US, China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas, have been stalled for eighteen months amid mounting evidence that the North continues to race ahead with its nuclear programme.

This month, Pyongyang unveiled an ultra-modern centrifuge facility to manufacture highly enriched uranium, a key ingredient in nuclear weapons. Washington and Seoul say the talks should not resume until North Korea makes a serious offer of disarmament.

China's move is likely to confirm fears that North Korea staged last week's attack to strengthen its hand in the nuclear negotiations.

South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak reportedly told a Chinese envoy that he would not accept the proposal.

President Lee will address the nation later today amid growing anger at his failure to deal more firmly with the crisis. The country remains on "Watchcon 2," only one alert level below all-out war. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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