South Korea proposes military talks with North Korea on Feb. 11

FILE : South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (C) encourages army soldiers during his visit to a military observation post of the front-line unit in the demilitarized zone in Yanggu, far northeast of Seoul, December 23, 2010. REUTERS/Blue House/Handout

SEOUL, Jan. 26 (KATAKAMI.COM / Yonhap) — South Korea said Wednesday it has proposed holding working-level military talks with North Korea on Feb. 11, in what would be their first dialogue since the North’s deadly bombardment of a border island in November.

The proposed inter-Korean talks, which would be held at the border truce village of Panmunjom, are aimed at setting the time, place and agenda for a higher-level military meeting, said Kim Min-seok, a spokesman at the South’s defense ministry.

North Korea has yet to respond to the South’s proposal made via a military communications line at Panmunjom, Kim said.

The talks are expected to be led by Col. Moon Sang-gyun of the South and Col. Ri Son-kwon of the North, who have served as representatives of working-level military talks from each side for years. But the level of representatives is likely to be upgraded to general-level officers, depending on the North’s response, Kim said.

“When North Korea sends us a reply message, we will decide on the level of representatives at the working-level talks,” Kim said.
The South’s proposal came less than a week after North Korea suggested that the two sides hold the working-level meeting between defense officials, as well as talks between their defense chiefs, to “resolve pending military issues.”

The defense ministry has said it is willing to hold ministerial-level talks, but only if North Korea takes responsibility for the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the torpedoing of a warship last March.

South Korean defense officials have also insisted that North Korea apologize for the two attacks that killed a total of 50 South Koreans and promise not to provoke the South if the ministerial-level talks take place.

“Our government’s stance is clear. North Korea must take responsible measures to account for the attacks on the Cheonan warship and Yeonpyeong Island, apologize for the attacks and pledged not to provoke again,” Kim said. “If North Korea refuses to do so, the ministerial-level talks won’t be held.”

In the proposal last week, the North said it wants to discuss its “viewpoint” on the attacks, according to a report by its state media, the Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea has so far denied any involvement in the torpedo attack of the Cheonan warship that killed 46 sailors, although a multinational investigation confirmed the North’s culpability.

Pyongyang has also claimed that its artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, in which two marines and two civilians died, was legitimate because the South provoked first by holding a life-fire drill near the island with some shells falling on the North’s side.

Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said North Korea is unlikely to meet the South’s demands for ministerial-level talks.

“The possibility of holding ministerial-level talks is low as the South has set the North’s apology over the Cheonan attack as a precondition,” Yang said.

The proposals of military talks between Seoul and Pyongyang come amid renewed efforts by regional powers to reopen the stalled six-party talks on the North’s nuclear programs.

The development followed a U.S.-China summit last week, during which the leaders of the two nations agreed that inter-Korean dialogue is necessary before resuming the six-party talks.

At the summit, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao “expressed concern” about North Korea’s recently disclosed uranium-enrichment facility and called for “necessary steps” to restart the six-party talks.

Also on Wednesday, the South’s Unification Ministry urged the North to agree to hold separate inter-Korean talks on its nuclear programs as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg is visiting Seoul for talks with South Korean officials on the North’s nuclear issues.  (*)

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South Korea to urge North Korea to take responsible attitude before dialogue: official

Photo File : Vice Unification Minister Um Jong-sik

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SEOUL, Jan. 5 (KATAKAMI / Yonhap) — South Korea will stick to its current policy on North Korea, seeking to get the communist neighbor to understand it should respect Seoul and take a responsible attitude if it wants dialogue, a senior official said Wednesday.

“We should try to get North Korea to change in a desirable way and take a sincere and responsible attitude so that fair South-North relations can be formed,” Vice Unification Minister Um Jong-sik said in a radio interview. “The door for dialogue is always open, but (the North) should respect its dialogue counterpart.”

North Korea has made a series of dialogue overtures after sharply escalating tensions with a deadly artillery strike on a South Korean island in November. In its New Year’s message, Pyongyang stressed the importance of improved relations and dialogue with South Korea. (*)

U.S. envoy holds talks with S. Korean negotiator over N. Korea

Stephen Bosworth (L), the U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy, holds talks with South Korea's chief nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac in Seoul on Jan. 5. (Yonhap)

 

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SEOUL, Jan. 5 (KATAKAMI / Yonhap) — The U.S. special envoy on North Korea met with South Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator Wednesday for discussions expected to focus on how best to use the option of dialogue to get Pyongyang to cease provocations and give up nuclear programs.

Talk of restarting the long-stalled nuclear disarmament negotiations with the North has gained traction as the U.S. prepares for a summit with China, which has strongly called for dialogue to reduce tensions, and as Pyongyang has shown a growing willingness to talk.

Stephen Bosworth, Washington’s special representative for North Korea policy, called for “serious negotiations” as a central strategy to deal with the communist nation, as he arrived in South Korea on Tuesday for talks with Seoul’s main nuclear envoy, Wi Sung-lac.

“We believe that serious negotiations must be at the heart of any strategy for dealing with North Korea, and we look forward to being able to launch those at a reasonably early time,” Bosworth told reporters at Incheon International Airport.

On Wednesday, Bosworth held talks with Wi. Though details were not immediately available, their discussions were expected to include the conditions that the North must meet before resuming the nuclear talks, such as halting its nuclear development and allowing international nuclear monitors back into the country.

Bosworth later met with Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, saying at the start of the meeting that he hopes South Koreans are “impressed and reassured by the very close coordination of policy that we’ve been undertaking over the last several months.”

Bosworth is scheduled to meet with Unification Minister Hyun In-taek later in the day.

His trip to the region, which will also take him to China and Japan, comes ahead of a summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao set for Jan. 19 in Washington where North Korea is expected to be a key topic.

China has called for restarting the six-party nuclear talks to curb tensions that were heightened after North Korea’s deadly shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island in November and the revelations that it has a uranium enrichment facility for a suspected new atomic weapons program.

North Korea has also been signaling a growing willingness to resume negotiations.

In its New Year’s message issued Saturday, Pyongyang stressed the importance of improved relations and dialogue with South Korea and said that it wants to achieve peace in the region and make the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.

South Korea and the U.S. have urged Pyongyang to first demonstrate through action its commitment to give up nuclear programs and improve relations with Seoul if it wants to reopen the nuclear talks, a stance that reflects deep skepticism about a regime that has abused negotiations to only get concessions.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley reiterated the demand.

“We do want to see specific things from North Korea, including a reduction of tension between North and South, an end to provocations and a seriousness of purpose with respect to” a 2005 disarmament-for-aid deal, he said. “We have to be assured that dialogue would be constructive. We don’t just want to have talks for talks’ sake.”

The six-party talks have been deadlocked since the last session in December 2008 due to a North Korean boycott. The talks bring together the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S.  (*)

North Korean special forces dressed in South Korean uniforms

South Korean soldiers in conventional woodland pattern uniforms. (Yonhap file photo)

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SEOUL, Dec. 28 (KATAKAMI / Yonhap) — Some of North Korean special forces stationed at the border with South Korea have dressed up in military uniforms with the same camouflage pattern as South Korean soldiers’ uniforms, a military source here said Tuesday.

The North’s tactic, confirmed by the South’s military for the first time this year, is believed to be intended to effectively confuse South Korean troops as the special forces have held drills to hone their ability to infiltrate the South, the source said on condition of anonymity.

“It was confirmed, for the first time this year, that North Korean troops at the front-line land border are wearing uniforms with the same woodland camouflage pattern (as South Korean troops),” the source said.

“Our judgment is that the North’s special forces stationed there are staging drills for intrusion by wearing the uniforms.”

South Korea’s military has been developing a new combat uniform with digital camouflage since 2008. It has already been supplied to the South’s special warfare forces and will be distributed from next July to other troops.

The South’s military is now considering distributing the new uniform earlier than scheduled, in line with the North’s move, the source said.

The North is believed to have some 200,000 special forces, an 11 percent increase from two years earlier, according to data by the South’s defense ministry. Of them, the North is believed to have completed deployment of some 50,000 troops along the border with the South.

The North’s bolstering of its special warfare capabilities means that the country intends to send such troops deep into South Korea to conduct a variety of attacks in case of conflicts, defense ministry officials said.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have remained acute following a series of military aggressions by the North, including the torpedo attack on a South Korean warship in March and the Nov. 23 shelling on a border island.

The bombardment on Yeonpyeong Island near the Yellow Sea border killed two South Korean marines and two civilians, marking the first attack on a civilian area in the South’s territory since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.  (*)

South Korea Concludes Artillery Drill, Scrambles Jet Fighters

Dec. 20, SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korean F-15K fighter jets were in the air on standby in case of North Korean provocations as South Korea began a live-fire artillery drill near the Yellow Sea border with North Korea on Dec. 20. This is a file photo taken in December 2008. (Photo : Yonhap)

 

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December 20, 2010 (KATAKAMI / VOA) — South Koreans are anxiously waiting to see if North Korea will make good on its threat to take military action in response to an artillery drill on Yeonpyeong island. The exercise came just hours after an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council failed to ease tensions, and after an American politician said North Korea is willing to accept nuclear inspections.

South Korea defied diplomatic pressure and went ahead Monday with firing artillery into the Yellow Sea for 94 minutes, escalating its confrontation with the communist North.

Defense officials stress the shelling was to the southwest, away from North Korea. But North Korea claims that area is its territory and, in the days since the drill was announced, has warned it could lead to war.

In Seoul, Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun termed the live-fire exercise routine and legitimate.

Dec. 20, SEOUL, South Korea -- Seen here are K-9 self-propelled howitzers mobilized for South Korea's maritime artillery live-fire drill on Dec. 20 on Yeonpyeong Island bordering North Korea in the Yellow Sea. This is a file photo taken in February 2010. (Photo : Yonhap)

Kim says the artillery drill is for self-defense and part of the country’s sovereign right.

A few hours before the exercise, the United Nations Security Council failed to reach a consensus on lowering tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Diplomats say China, among other nations, would not back a statement condemning North Korea for recent aggressive behavior, including the shelling of Yeonpyeong island last month.

After the U.N. talks failed, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice defended South Korea’s decision to go ahead with the artillery drill. She noted the two fatal attacks this year blamed on North Korea – the sinking in March of a South Korean navy ship and last month’s shelling of Yeonpyeong island.

“If the events of the last year have shown anything it is that the Republic of Korea has every need and right to ready its self defense having lost 50 citizens simply over the course of the last nine months,” said Rice.

A Chinese vice foreign minister on Monday renewed his country’s call for more talks and said no one has the right to provoke conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Dec. 20, SEOUL, South Korea -- Citizens watch breaking news at Seoul Station on the South Korean army's live-fire drill that started near the inter-Korean maritime border in the Yellow Sea on Dec. 20. (Photo : Yonhap)

Also Monday, a veteran American diplomatic troubleshooter wrapped up a trip to Pyongyang. He was quoted by the CNN news network as saying the North Koreans have agreed to allow U.N. nuclear inspectors back into the country.

Former ambassador Bill Richardson (the governor of New Mexico) was quoted as saying the North Koreans also agreed to negotiate the sale of 12,000 fresh fuel rods so they could be shipped out of the country.

For seven years, the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea have tried to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programs in return for aid and greater diplomatic recognition. Despite agreeing to do so, Pyongyang has tested nuclear weapons and recently revealed a new fuel production facility.

Members of South Korea’s political opposition unsuccessfully appealed to President Lee Myung-bak to cancel Monday’s artillery training.

Democratic Party lawmaker Chung Dong-Young is a former cabinet minister who previously negotiated with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

“It[‘s] irresponsible of the president if he panders to the tastes of the conservative forces,” he said. “The president should be responsible if the artillery fire from Yeonpyeong island brings another dangerous exchange of fire, which might go out of control.”

Last month, conservatives criticized the president for not responding forcefully to the North Korean attack, which killed four South Koreans.

In the early 1950’s, the two Koreas fought a three-year year. A truce has been in place since 1953, but no peace treaty has been signed.  (*)

China calls for North Korea talks

The USS George Washington is taking part in joint US-South Korean military exercises over the next few day in the Yellow Sea. Photograph: Charles Oki/EPA

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Time not right for six-way meeting in Beijing, says Seoul, amid military muscle flexing by North and South Korea.

November 28, 2010 (KATAKAMI / GUARDIAN.CO.UK) — China has called for emergency international talks over North Korea as Pyongyang reportedly prepared missile batteries and the US and South Korea launched joint military exercises.Tensions on the Korean peninsula are as severe as they have been at any time since the end of the Korean war in 1953, and a senior official in Beijing today suggested emergency talks between the six countries that had taken part in talks on Pyongyang’s disarmament.

Wu Dawei, the Chinese envoy to the peninsula, said representatives from Pyongyang and Seoul, China, the US, Russia and Japan, who have been meeting over the last seven years to discuss North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, should convene in Beijing early next month “to exchange views on major issues of concern”.

The talks themselves, moribund for two years after North Korea walked out, look unlikely to be resumed, with Seoul’s presidential office saying it was not the right time for such a move. But such an urgent intervention from China, North Korea’s only significant ally and the sole outside country with any sway over its actions, is significant, not least in underlining the gravity of the situation.

The Seoul-based Yonhap news agency reported that Pyongyang had placed surface-to-surface missiles on launch pads along its Yellow Sea coastline. The North’s military is also aiming surface-to-air missiles at South Korean fighter jets flying near the western sea border, the agency added.

Two South Korean marines and two civilians died on Tuesday when the North unleashed, without warning, an artillery barrage on Yeonpyeong island, which hosts both a military garrison and a small fishing community. The attack, seen as the most serious single military incident since the end of the war, destroyed dozens of homes , injured another 18 people, and set the South on a war footing.

North Korea described the civilian deaths as “regrettable” but blamed the South for placing residents on the island, which Pyongyang insists is North Korean territory, as human shields. The North also condemned a major US-South Korea military drill in the Yellow Sea, which began today.

The four-day exercise, involving the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, is believed to be taking place about 100 miles south of Yeonpyeong. While Seoul insists the exercise is both routine and pre-planned, the North’s National Peace Committee of Korea described it as “pretext for aggression and ignite a war at any cost”.

Pyongyang issued a series of warnings, and threatened to “give a shower of dreadful fire and blow up the bulwark of the enemies if they dare to encroach again upon [North Korea’s] dignity and sovereignty, even in the least.”

Seoul is being almost equally bellicose. At a funeral yesterday for the marines killed on Yeonpyeong, the South Korean military commander, Major-General You Nak-jun, laid flowers at an altar and vowed that his country would retaliate if there was a further attack from the North.

“Our marine corps … will carry out a hundred – or thousand-fold” in retaliation, he said at the ceremony. “We will put our feelings of rage and animosity in our bones and take our revenge on North Korea.”

Dozens of journalists have ignored South Korean military warnings about staying on Yeonpyeong, which is seven miles from North Korean territory. They and locals sought cover today after hearing new bursts of artillery fire. No rounds landed on the island.

Dai Bingguo, a senior Chinese foreign policy adviser, visited South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak. In unusually strong comments Lee made plain his concerns that Beijing was not exerting sufficient pressure on North Korea, calling on China to contribute to peace in a “more objective, responsible” manner.

The chairman of North Korea’s supreme people’s assembly, Choe Thae Bok, is due to visit Beijing from Tuesday, China’s official Xinhua news agency said.

Since the Korean war ended, with a truce rather than a formal treaty, tensions between the two sides have risen and receded many times. However, the past year has seen particularly intense pressures, notably after a South Korean warship was sunk in March, killing 46 sailors. An international team of investigators concluded that a North Korean torpedo sank the vessel, although Pyongyang denies any involvement.

The latest crisis has already cost the South Korean defence minister, Kim Tae-young, his job amid accusations that the response to North Korea’s initial attack had been too weak. Now South Korea’s president has sent 4,000 troops as reinforcements to Yeonpyeong and other nearby islands with extra weapons and new rules of engagement that give them greater scope to respond if attacked.

Photostream : Nation mourns two marines killed by N. Korean attack

Nov. 27, SEONGNAM, South Korea -- South Korea holds a nationally televised funeral for two marines killed in an artillery clash with North Korea earlier this week, at a military hospital in Seongnam, south of Seoul, on Nov. 27. The two marines and two civilians were killed in the Nov. 23 North Korean artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island. (Yonhap)

Honor guards carry the coffins of two dead marines who were killed by North Korea's artillery shells attack on Yeonpyeong Island, during a funeral at a military hospital in Seongnam, south of Seoul November 27, 2010. Four people were killed when North Korea lobbed scores of artillery shells on a South Korean island near the disputed sea border on Tuesday. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Lieutenant General Yoo Nak-Joon, commander of South Korean Marine Corps, salutes during the funeral ceremony for two marines killed during North Korea's attack on Yeonpyeong Island, at a military hospital in Seongnam. South Koreans vowed revenge and a tough line against North Korea as the nation grieved for two marines killed in the regime's artillery strike that caused global alarm this week. (AFP/Jung Yeon-Je)

Soldiers salute for two dead marines who were killed by North Korea's artillery shells attack on Yeonpyeong Island, during a funeral at a military hospital in Seongnam, south of Seoul November 27, 2010. Four people were killed when North Korea lobbed scores of artillery shells on a South Korean island near the disputed sea border on Tuesday. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The mother (R) of South Korean dead marine Seo Jung-woo, who was killed by North Korea's artillery shells attack on Yeonpyeong Island, cries during a funeral at a military hospital in Seongnam, south of Seoul November 27, 2010. Four people were killed when North Korea lobbed scores of artillery shells on a South Korean island near the disputed sea border on Tuesday. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

MARINE Military officers escort the mother of South Korean dead marine Seo Jung-woo, who was killed by North Korea's artillery shells attack on Yeonpyeong Island, after a funeral at a military hospital in Seongnam, south of Seoul November 27, 2010. Four people were killed when North Korea lobbed scores of artillery shells on a South Korean island near the disputed sea border on Tuesday. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Nov. 27, SEONGNAM, South Korea -- Families mourn as South Korea holds a nationally televised funeral for two marines killed in an artillery clash with North Korea earlier this week, at a military hospital in Seongnam, south of Seoul, on Nov. 27. Two civilians also died in the Nov. 23 North Korean attack on Yeonpyeong Island. (Yonhap)

President Lee checks follow-up measures after N. Korea's deadly attack

File : South Korean President Lee Myung-bak receives a briefing at the control centre of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Defence Ministry in Seoul November 23, 2010. North Korea on Tuesday fired dozens of artillery shells at a South Korean island, setting buildings on fire and prompting a return of fire by the South, Seoul's military and media reports said. (Getty Images / REUTERS/Jo Bo-Hee/Yonhap )

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SEOUL, Nov. 27 (KATAKAMI / Yonhap) — South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was presiding over a security-related meeting on Saturday to check follow-up measures after North Korea fired a barrage of shots on a South Korean island earlier this week, officials said.

The meeting also comes one day before the U.S. and South Korea are set to begin military exercises in the Yellow Sea in a show of force that North Korea warned will take the peninsula to the “brink of war.”

Lee was discussing measures to counter another possible North Korean attack and studying ways to levy sanctions on the communist state, according to the officials.

On Tuesday, North Korea fired artillery on Yeonpyeong Island, a populated island in the Yellow Sea, killing four people, including two civilians.

The North Korea’s attack marked the first civilian deaths in an attack since the bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987.

South Korea and the U.S. were set to launch large-scale naval exercises Sunday in another potent show of force against North Korea.

The nuclear-powered USS George Washington, with more than 6,000 sailors and 75 fighter jets aboard, prepared for the naval drills with South Korea in the Yellow Sea. The drills are set to run through Wednesday, and about 10 warships have been mobilized for the exercises.  (*)

SKorea mourns 2 marines killed in NKorea attack

Family members of Seo Jeong-woo, a South Korean marine killed in Tuesday's North Korean bombardment, cry during a funeral service at a military hospital in Seongnam, South Korea, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010. South Korea honored two marines killed in the artillery attack that was one of the worst bombardments of its territory since the 1950-53 Korean War (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

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November 27, 2010 SEONGNAM, South Korea  (KATAKAMI / AP)  – South Korea’s marine commander vowed severe revenge at a funeral Saturday for two marines killed in a North Korean bombardment, as the country prepared military maneuvers with the U.S. that have enraged the North and concerned China.

The commander, Maj. Gen. You Nak-jun, said the retaliation would be “thousand-fold” as dignitaries and relatives laid white flowers at a funeral altar following Tuesday’s attack on a South Korean island, which also killed two civilians in one of the worst artillery attacks on the country’s territory since the 1950-53 Korean War.

As protesters in Seoul demanded their government take sterner action against North Korea, the North issued new warnings against the war games scheduled to start Sunday with a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea.

The North called the games an “unpardonable provocation” and warning of retaliatory attacks creating a “sea of fire” if its own territory is violated. The comments ran on North Korea’s state-run Uriminzokkiri website a day after the North’s warnings that the peninsula was on the “brink of war.”

China, under pressure from the U.S. and South Korea to rein in its ally Pyongyang, urged both sides to show restraint while Washington played down the belligerent rhetoric, noting that the weekend war games were routine and planned well before last week’s attack.

“The pressing task now is to put the situation under control and prevent a recurrence of similar incidents,” Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton by phone, according to the ministry’s website.

The North’s artillery fire Tuesday destroyed civilian homes as well as military bases on Yeonpyeong Island in a major escalation of their sporadic skirmishes along the disputed sea border. The attack — eight months after a torpedo sank a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors — laid bare Seoul’s weaknesses in defense 60 years after the Korean War.

North Korea does not recognize the maritime border drawn by the U.N. at the close of the three-year war in 1953, and considers the waters around Yeonpyeong Island, just 7 miles (11 kilometers) from its shores, as its territory.

The heightened animosity between the Koreas comes as the nuclear-armed North undergoes a delicate transition of power from leader Kim Jong Il to his young, inexperienced son Kim Jong Un, who is in his late 20s and is expected to eventually succeed his ailing father.

Tuesday’s attack came days after North Korea revealed a new uranium enrichment program that could improve its ability to make and deliver nuclear weapons, sending the message that new regime is as tough and unpredictable as ever and highlighting the urgency of restarting disarmament talks with the North.

South Korea’s government, meanwhile, struggled to recoup from the surprise attacks, firing one defense minister and naming a new one Friday.

About former 70 special forces troops, wearing white head bands, scuffled with riot police in front of the Defense Ministry to protest what they called the government’s weak response to the attacks, pummeling the riot troops’ helmets with wooden stakes and spraying fire extinguishers.

“Let’s go!” the activists shouted.

The police, numbering several hundreds, pushed back with shields. Elsewhere in Seoul several hundred activists held a peaceful, but noisy rally to denounce North Korea.

China’s foreign minister met with the North Korean ambassador to Beijing, Chinese state media said — an apparent effort to trumpet China’s role as a responsible actor, and placate the U.S. and the South. China has expressed mild concern about the impending war games, in contrast to its strong protests over earlier rounds.

“The Chinese government is trying to send Pyongyang a signal that if they continue to be so provocative, China will just leave the North Koreans to themselves,” said Zhu Feng, director of Peking University’s Center for International and Strategic Studies.

China is impoverished North Korea’s biggest benefactor and one of its only allies.

In Washington, the Pentagon played down any notion that the weekend maneuvers with South Korea — set to include the USS George Washington supercarrier — were a provocation.

“We have exercised there regularly,” Capt. Darryn James, a Defense Department spokesman in Washington, said Friday. “And all of these exercises are in international waters.”

President Lee Myung-bak also has ordered reinforcements for the 4,000 troops on Yeonpyeong and four other Yellow Sea islands, as well as top-level weaponry and upgraded rules of engagement.

Most of the islanders fled to the mainland after Tuesday’s hail of artillery set off fierce blazes that destroyed many of their communities. It will take six months to two years for island communities to rebuild, disaster relief official Kim Sang-ryul said.

Soldiers assembled toilets Saturday for temporary shelters being built on the island by teams of relief workers.

In Seongnam, near Seoul, South Korea’s prime minister and marine commander joined some 600 mourners attending the funeral for the two dead marines at a packed gymnasium at a military hospital.

As a brass band played somber music, they placed chrysanthemums — a traditional mourning flower — before framed photographs of the two men, posthumously promoted and awarded medals of valor. One marine’s mother pressed her hand to her mouth, and fell forward in her seat in grief.

“Our marine corps … will carry out a hundred- or thousand-fold” retaliation against North Korea for Tuesday’s attack, said You, the marine commander. He did not elaborate.

Passersby paused at Seoul’s main train station to watch funeral footage on a big screen.

“Once the enemy attacks us, it is our duty to respond even more strongly,” said student Jeon Hyun-soo, 19. “The South Korean people want this.”   (*)

South Korean defense minister resigns over North's artillery attack

South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young

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November 25, 2010 (KATAKAMI / RIA NOVOSTI) — South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young resigned after the handling of the deadly North Korean artillery attack, Yonhap news agency said on Thursday.

North Korea opened artillery fire on the South’s Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea Tuesday, killing at least two South Korean marines and two civilians. Sixteen others were injured, along with three civilians. The South retaliated and warned of further strikes. The North later accused South Korea of attacking first.

The agency said South Korean President Lee Myung-bak accepted Kim’s resignation.

The Korean Herald said Kim stepped down because of the recent series of incidents and for the Armed Force’s disputed response to the North ‘s attack.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed hope on Thursday the United Nations Security Council in the near future will make a statement on the armed conflict.

South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young, left, consoles the families of the victims of North Korea's artillery attack at a military hospital in Seongnam, South Korea, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010. Kim resigned Thursday, two days after an artillery attack by North Korea killed four people on a small island near their disputed frontier.(Getty Images / AP Photo/Korea Pool)

South Korean media said heir-apparent Kim Jong-un and his father, Kim Jong-il, visited the military base from where the South Korean island was shelled shortly before the attack.

A top U.S. military official, Admiral Mike Mullen, called for international pressure on North Korea, including on the part of China.

“The one country that has influence in Pyongyang is China and so their leadership is absolutely critical,” he said.

The attack is the second incident in the tense Yellow Sea border area this year. In March, a North Korean submarine was alleged to have torpedoed a South Korean naval ship, the Cheonan, causing the loss of 46 lives.  (*)

MOSCOW, November 25

SKorea to boost troops as NKorea issues warning

 

A South Korean woman who is on the way out of the island, brings her bicycle and her belongings near the destroyed houses on Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010. South Korea's president vowed Thursday to boost troops on the island targeted by a North Korean artillery barrage, while the North stridently warned of additional attacks if the South carries out any 'reckless military provocations.' (AP Photo / Lee Jin-man)

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November 25, 2010 YEONPYEONG ISLAND, South Korea (KATAKAMI / AP)  – South Korea’s president vowed Thursday to boost troops on an island targeted by a North Korean artillery barrage, while the North stridently warned of additional attacks if the South carries out any “reckless military provocations.”

Seoul and Washington ratcheted up the pressure on China to use its influence on ally North Korea to ease soaring tensions after an exchange of fire Tuesday that left four South Koreans dead — including two civilians. China urged both sides to show restraint.

The North’s bombardment of this tiny South Korean island along a disputed maritime frontier — the first such attack on a civilian area — alarmed world leaders, including President Barack Obama, who reaffirmed plans for joint maneuvers with Seoul involving a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea starting Sunday.

“We should not let our guard down in preparation for another possible North Korean provocation,” South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said during an emergency meeting in Seoul on repercussions of the attack, presidential spokesman Hong Sang-pyo said. “I think a similar North Korean provocation could come at any time.”

Yeonpyeong Island, home to military bases as well a fishing community of 1,300 residents, looked like a war zone Thursday, with homes and shops completely flattened and the streets strewn with blackened rubble, mangled window frames and shattered glass.

Hundreds of residents have already fled the devastation for the mainland, but a few were still rooting around the rubble looking for personal belonging and spending cold nights in underground shelters.

Hong said that South Korea will boost ground troops on Yeonpyeong and four other islands in western waters in response to this week’s attack, reversing a 2006 decision calling for an eventual decrease. He declined to discuss specifics for the increase, but said troops there currently amount to about 4,000.

His comments came as South Korea’s defense chief visited the island, located about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the port of Incheon west of Seoul but just 7 miles (11 kilometers) from North Korean shores.

The military was analyzing debris from North Korea’s artillery and has not ruled out North Korea’s use of thermobaric bombs, which burn more violently and increase casualties and property destruction, a Joint Chiefs of Staff official said. He asked not to be identified, saying he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

The two Koreas are required to abide by an armistice signed at the close of the three-year war, but the North does not recognize the maritime line drawn by U.N. forces in 1953 and considers South Korean maneuvers near Yeonpyeong island a violation of its territory.

The attack added to animosity from the March sinking of a South Korean warship in nearby waters that killed 46 sailors in the worst military attack on the nation since the Korean War.

Skirmishes occur from time to time around the sea border, but Tuesday’s attack was the first to target civilians and raised concerns about escalating hostilities leading to another war.

The shelling also comes as North Korea is undergoing a delicate transition of power from leader Kim Jong Il to his young son Kim Jong Un. The son, who is in late 20s, was made a four-star general and nominated to high-ranking Workers’ Party posts in the first steps toward eventually succeeding his father.

The previously scheduled U.S.-South Korean drills set to begin Sunday and involving the carrier USS George Washington are sure to infuriate North Korea.

The North made no specific mention of those exercises in its statement but warned that its military would “launch second and third strong physical retaliations without hesitation if South Korean warmongers carry out reckless military provocations.”

The North also said Washington was to blame for the South Korean artillery drills on Yeonpyeong that prompted the North to respond with its artillery barrage Tuesday.

Washington “should thoroughly control South Korea,” it said. The warning was issued by North Korea’s military mission at the truce village of Panmunjom and was carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

South Korea says its artillery exercises Tuesday were aimed away from North Korea, and a top military official on the island Thursday showed reporters a trajectory heading to the southwest.

“North Korea argues that we fired at them first, but this is the direction that we fired,” Lt. Gen. Joo Jong-hwa said.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration urged China to rein in ally North Korea, with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, saying: “We really think it’s important for the international community to lead, but in particular China.”

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called on all sides to show “maximum restraint.” He repeated calls for renewed six-nation talks aimed at persuading North Korea to dismantle its nuclear programs. Wen said those talks, involving the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the United States, are the best way to ensure stability on the peninsula and its denuclearization.

Wen’s remarks were made in Russia on Wednesday on a state visit and posted on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website.

South Korea said it will increase diplomatic efforts to get China, which supplied North Korea with troops during the Korean War and remains its main ally and biggest benefactor, to put pressure on Pyongyang.

On Thursday, the coast guard transported two white coffins carrying the bodies of civilians pulled from the rubble Wednesday.

In Seongnam, just outside Seoul, military officers and family members mourned the two marines killed in the attack, laying flowers and burning incense at an altar. Funerals are to take place Saturday.

Yeonpyeong residents arrived in Incheon with harrowing tales of fiery destruction and narrow escapes.

Survivor Ahn Ae-ja said the artillery barrage caught her by surprise.

“Over my head, a pine tree was broken and burning,” Ahn told AP Television News on Wednesday. “So I thought ‘Oh, this is not another exercise. It is a war.’ I decided to run. And I did.”

About 10 homes suffered direct hits and 30 were destroyed in the barrage, according to a local official who spoke by telephone. She asked that her name not be used.

“I heard the sound of artillery, and I felt that something was flying over my head,” said Lim Jung-eun, 36, who fled the island with three children, including a 9-month-old strapped to her back. “Then the mountain caught on fire.”

The shower of artillery from North Korea was the first to strike a civilian population. In addition to the two marines and two civilians killed in the exchange, at least 18 people — most of them troops — were wounded.

Officials in Seoul said there could be considerable North Korean casualties but there was no mention in North Korean state media of casualties.  (*)

Another two victims of North Korea attack found dead on South Korean island

Another two victims of N. Korea attack found dead on S. Korean island

November 24, 2010 (KATAKAMI / RIA NOVOSTI) — Two civilian victims of Tuesday’s artillery skirmish between North and South Korea were found on the attacked Yeonpyeong Island, Yonhap news agency said on Wednesday.

Servicemen found the bodies at a construction site on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island, Yonhap quoted the Coast Guard as saying, adding that they had not been identified yet.

The find brings the death toll of Tuesday’s artillery fire on the island in the Yellow Sea to four, including two South Korean marines reported earlier.

Eighteen others were injured, including three civilians.

The attack is the second incident in the tense Yellow Sea border area this year. In March, a North Korean submarine was alleged to have torpedoed a South Korean naval ship, the Cheonan, causing the loss of 46 lives.  (*)

MOSCOW, November 24

President Barack Obama says US strongly affirms commitment to defend South Korea

File Photo : South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak and President Barack Obama hold bilateral talks Thursday at the presidential Blue House in Seoul (November 11, 2010)

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In Interview with Barbara Walters, Obama Calls on China to Take a Stand Against North Korea

November23, 2010 (KATAKAMI / ABCNEWS.COM ) — President Obama today strongly condemned North Korea’s attack on South Korea and, in an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Barbara Walters, urged China to take a stand against aggression.

“This is a — just one more provocative incident in a series that we’ve seen over the last several months, and I’m going to be talking to the president of Korea — South Korea this evening and we’ll be consulting closely with them in terms of the appropriate response,” the president said. “We’ve strongly condemned the attack… we are rallying the international community once again to put pressure on North Korea.”

Obama wouldn’t comment on military actions the U.S. may take, except to reiterate that South Korea is “one of our most important allies” and “a cornerstone of U.S. security in the Pacific region.”

“We want to make sure all the parties in the region recognize that this is a serious and ongoing threat that has to be dealt with,” the president added.

He specifically called on China to stand firm and “make clear to North Korean that there are a set of international rules that they need to abide by,” Obama said.

Tensions escalated on the Korean peninsula this morning after North Korea fired artillery shells at South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island. The South Koreans responded with their own artillery fire.

Authorities said two South Korean soldiers were killed, 16 others were injured and at least three civilians were killed.

South Korean naval forces were conducting a routine drill in the waters near the island earlier in the morning, which authorities say may have triggered off a reaction from North Korea.

The western sea border has been at the center of dispute where the two Koreas fought bloody skirmishes in 1999, 2002, and most recently November 2009. But this is the first time since the end of the Korean war in 1953 that North Korea has fired on South Korea’s civilian territory.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called the attack one of “gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War” and said he “is deeply concerned by the escalation of tension on the Korean peninsula.”

There were no U.S. forces involved in the annual South Korean training exercises, according to the Pentagon. In years past, U.S. marines have participated in the exercise, but a scheduling conflict prevented their participation this year. Planning is still underway for a joint U.S.-South Korean exercise in the Yellow Sea, but the timing hasn’t been announced.

Defense Secretary Gates called his South Korean counterpart today and reiterated the U.S. stance against “this act of aggression.”

“In a phone call this morning, Secretary Gates told Minister Kim the United States strongly condemns the attack by North Korea, views it as a violation of the armistice agreement and assured him that we are committed to South Korea’s defense,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters. “He expressed sympathy for the loss of life and appreciation for the restraint shown to date by the South Korean government.”

The exchange of fire came days after North Korea revealed its upgraded and strengthened uranium enrichment plant to western scientists.

Siegfried Hecker, the Stanford professor and former head of the Los Alamos lab who was invited to North Korea last week to witness their new uranium program, said today the country’s nuclear capability is much farther along than previously estimated.

He added that the Obama administration should undertake a thorough review of North Korea, since the last one was in 2000.

ABC News’ Huma Khan, Jake Tapper, Kirit Radia, Luis Martinez and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague condemns North Korea's 'unprovoked attack' on South Korea

 

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November 23, 2010 (KATAKAMI / FCO.GOV.UK) — Foreign Secretary William Hague has spoken following this morning’s artillery attack by North Korea on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong.

“The UK strongly condemns North Korea’s unprovoked attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong Island.  Such unprovoked attacks will only lead to further tensions on the Korean Peninsula.  We strongly urge North Korea to refrain from such attacks and adhere to the Korean Armistice agreement. I welcome President Lee Myung-bak’s call for restraint.”

US condemns North Korean attack on South Korea

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak receives a briefing at the control centre of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Defence Ministry in Seoul November 23, 2010. North Korea on Tuesday fired dozens of artillery shells at a South Korean island, setting buildings on fire and prompting a return of fire by the South, Seoul's military and media reports said. (Getty Images / REUTERS/Jo Bo-Hee/Yonhap )

November 23, 2010 WASHINGTON (KATAKAMI / AP) – The White House on Tuesday condemned North Korea’s artillery attack against the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, the latest in a series of provocations that have reawakened concerns about the threat posed by the communist country and its reclusive leadership.

In a statement released before dawn, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called on North Korea to “to halt its belligerent action and to fully abide by the terms of the armistice agreement,” the 1953 pact that ended the Korean War.

North Korea fired barrages of artillery onto a South Korean island near their disputed western border Tuesday, setting buildings ablaze and killing at least two marines after warning the South to halt military drills in the area, South Korean officials said.

Gibbs said the White House “is in close and continuing contact” with the South Korean government.

“The United States is firmly committed to the defense of our ally, the Republic of Korea, and to the maintenance of regional peace and stability,” he said.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell concurred with Obama in condemning the attack.

“As the people of the Republic of Korea question what new belligerent action may come from the North, they should not have any question that the people and forces of the United States stand ready as a devoted ally committed to the defense of their nation,” McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement. “I join the president in his strong condemnation of what is sadly just the latest in a long string of hostile actions. North Korea’s neighbors should unite in condemning this attack.”

A senior administration official said the president was woken up shortly before 4 a.m. by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, who updated the president on the situation. Obama will get further updates during his daily intelligence briefing before heading to Indiana, where he’s scheduled to make remarks on the economy.

None of the more than 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea were involved in the military drills, said Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros, a Pentagon spokesman in Washington.

U.S. troops have participated in the annual exercise in the past, said Marine Col. Dave Lapan, another Defense Department spokesman at the Pentagon. An earlier plan to have U.S. Marines participate in a landing maneuver with the South Koreans this year didn’t work out because of American scheduling issues, Lapan said Tuesday.

The attack came amid high tension over North Korea’s claim that it has a new uranium enrichment facility and just six weeks after North Korean leader Kim Jong Il unveiled his youngest son Kim Jong Un as his heir apparent.

On Monday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters the administration is studying the evidence a group of visiting American scientists used to conclude the North was building the enrichment facility, which presumably could be used to produce fuel for nuclear weapons.

“We will not be drawn into rewarding North Korea for bad behavior,” he said. “They frequently anticipate doing something outrageous or provocative and forcing us to jump through hoops as a result. We’re not going to buy into this cycle.”

The North’s artillery on Tuesday struck the small South Korean-held island of Yeonpyeong, which houses military installations and a small civilian population and which has been the focus of two previous deadly battles between the Koreas.

South Korea returned fire and dispatched fighter jets in response, and said there could be considerable North Korean casualties as troops unleashed retaliatory fire. The supreme military command in Pyongyang threatened more strikes if the South crossed its maritime border by “even 0.001 millimeter,” according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

Earlier this month, during a speech to U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, President Barack Obama said: “Pyongyang should not be mistaken: The United States will never waver in our commitment to the security of the Republic of Korea. We will not waver.” (*)

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