South Korean Military unveils tentative defense reform plan

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

Feb 7 (KATAKAMI.COM) — The Defense Ministry`s latest reform plan is known to include the reintroduction of extra credit for serving in the military, reduction in the number of generals, an active deterrent strategy, and a new headquarters near the five border islands in the Yellow Sea.

A military official said Sunday, “Personnel appointments will be made in April to facilitate the establishment of a new military command in the Yellow Sea islands. Personnel affairs should be resolved first to speed up the establishment.”

The ministry was planning to report Monday its 24-point defense reform package to President Lee Myung-bak, but postponed it because the presidential office asked to include the formation of an inspection team for defense reform promotion.

On the improvement of military decision-making, the ministry will urge a balance of proportion of officers in key decision-making posts from the armed forces. The details will be decided after discussion, however, which will likely spur disputes among relevant parties.

The Defense Advancement Promotion Committee had earlier stipulated the balancing of the number of top decision-making officers in the armed forces under a 1:1:1 ratio and the number of manager-level officials at the ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff under a 2:1:1 ratio.

On military capacity, the ministry will also distinguish areas to be enhanced from those to be trimmed.

The ministry will reduce the number of spike missiles from 130 to 90 and use the savings to expand other military capacity. In the wake of North Korea`s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last year, the government decided to deploy spike missiles in case of further provocations.

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin is known to have ordered the reduction of the missile deployment in a meeting. “Missile attacks are symbolic in that they threaten the enemy in the early stages of provocations, but attacking with combat planes equipped with more weapons is more effective,” he said.

Developed by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense System, a spike missile has a range of 25 kilometers and can directly be fired at the North’s coastal artillery facilities 12 kilometers from Yeonpyeong. It can also destroy cannons in rear areas through video equipment.

One spike missile costs 800 million won (718,488 U.S. dollars), according to the ministry.

The number of tanks will also be reduced. Minister Kim said, “In our military environment, we don`t need all 2,300 battle tanks. When our military comes to attack North Korea with tanks, the North Korean military would`ve already been beaten by our Air Force.”

Vice Defense Minister Lee Yong-geol is known to be considering putting as a lower priority the K-2 battle tank in defense spending. The South Korean military has 2,400 tanks and North Korea 4,100, according to Seoul`s 2010 defense white paper. (*)

Source : The Donga A Ilbo

Koreas should discuss nukes before six-party talks can reopen: Lee adviser

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak

 

SEOUL, Jan. 27 (KATAKAMI / Yonhap) — North Korea must show its genuine willingness to denuclearize in dialogue with South Korea if the communist state wants to see the restart of six-party talks on its nuclear programs, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s top security adviser said Thursday.

The comments by Chun Yung-woo come as the two Koreas are planning to hold their first military talks in months after the North sharply raised tensions by shelling a South Korean island on Nov. 23.

South Korea proposed earlier this week that the sides hold a preliminary meeting on Feb. 11. The North, which had first proposed high-level defense talks to defuse tension, has yet to respond.

Speaking in a speech in Seoul, Chun said the planned dialogue would serve as a “test bed” for North Korea to show that it has turned around from its pursuit of nuclear arms.

“Six-party talks resumed without the commitment to abandon nuclear programs will merely be talks for the sake of talks and a venue for North Korea to buy time,” Chun told a group of unification activists. “If the sincerity is confirmed, we will then resume the six-party talks and discuss in which order and through which plan (denuclearization) will be achieved.”

Chun’s comments are the strongest affirmation yet that inter-Korean dialogue is the door to the resumption of the multinational denuclearization-for-aid talks that group the two Koreas, the United States, Russia, Japan and China.

In their summit in Washington last week, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao also called for “sincere and constructive” dialogue between the two Koreas while expressing concern over deepening nuclear development in the North.

Chun said North Korea has incurred an estimated annual economic loss of US$300 million since South Korea suspended cross-border trade over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

The price of rice in North Korea also doubled in the past three months, he said, describing Pyongyang as “very desperate” for aid that would facilitate its ongoing hereditary power succession.

“North Korea has kicked away its own lifeline” by going ahead with provocative acts, including the deadly Nov. 23 bombardment of a South Korean Yellow Sea island and its nuclear tests, Chun said.

“Denuclearization is possible when (the North) is faced with having to choose between either denuclearizing or not,” he said, calling the latter a choice with “no future.”

Chun, who used to represent South Korea in the six-party talks, said his government is not preoccupied with drawing apologies from the North over the warship sinking and island shelling last year, but that there is “no reason why the North should not apologize.”

“No progress will be made if (North Korea) behaves irrationally” in its military talks with South Korea by seeking rice and fertilizer aid instead of genuine reconciliation, Chun said.

“We’re trying to see whether or not the North is only trying to extract something from inter-Korean talks,” he said. “We have been cheated many times by peace offensives, but we no longer shall be.”

The two Koreas remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty. After a decade of thawing, the relations between the Koreas deteriorated as President Lee, upon taking office in 2008, made denuclearization his top policy priority in dealing with the North.  (*)

 

 

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.  (*)

South Korea to soon propose nuclear talks with North

SEOUL, Jan 24 (KATAKAMI.COM / Reuters) – South Korea will soon propose holding talks with the North that could pave the way for a resumption of six-party negotiations aimed at ending Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions in return for aid, an official said on Monday.

The meeting, which would be a major breakthrough after a two-year suspension of the disarmament-for-aid process, will be proposed separately from high-level military talks between the rival Koreas.

Last week the North accepted the South’s terms for talks to try to defuse one of the worst crises on the peninsula since the 1950-53 Korean War.

“As soon as (internal) discussions conclude, we will be making a proposal to the North on high-level military talks and also official meetings on denuclearization,” said Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-ju.

“We need to look more at whether we can make the proposals for those talks at the same time or with a time differential,” Lee told a briefing.

A South Korean Defence Ministry official said on Monday a set of working-level talks will probably take place in mid-February to set the dates, venue and agenda for a high-level military meeting, and the South’s proposal will likely be made this week.

The North’s acceptance of the South’s conditions for talks last week came as a culmination of U.S. pressure on China with a warning that it would redeploy forces in Asia if Beijing did not do all it could to rein in North Korea, a U.S. official said.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula rose sharply last year when a South Korean navy ship was sunk by a torpedo attack in March that Seoul blamed on Pyongyang. The North bombarded a South Korean island late in the year, the first such attack in decades.

“The government continues to hold the position that we need to check how serious the North is about denuclearization,” said Lee of the Unification Ministry.

Washington and Beijing, the two key players in the six-party process, have argued that North-South dialogue is a prerequisite for a resumption of the talks also involving the two Koreas, Russia and China. Pyongyang walked out after rejecting nuclear inspections and pronounced the talks finished in 2009.

It has since expressed a willingness to return, a move that analysts said was motivated by an acute need for outside help as its impoverished economy continues to be squeezed by international sanctions that cut off its lucrative arms trade.  (*)

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.  (*)

South Korea's president calls island attack an opportunity for change

A man watches a broadcast of South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak's New Year policy address in Seoul on Monday.

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January 3, 2011 (KATAKAMI / CNN) — South Korea’s president said Monday the country should respond to the attack on Yeonpyeong Island the same way the United States reacted to the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York — by using the event as an opportunity to reflect on security and overhaul the country’s defenses.

Speaking during his New Year’s address, President Lee Myung-bak called the November attack a turning point and warned North Korea that any future “provocations” would be met with “stern, strong responses.”

“The shelling of Yeonpyeong Island … served as an opportunity for us to reflect on our security readiness and overhaul our defense posture,” he said. “Peace cannot be obtained without a price.”

Tensions have been running high between North and South Korea ever since the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan last March, killing 46 sailors.

Full coverage of the Koreas’ conflict

South Korea and the international community blamed the North for the sinking, but Pyongyang has denied the accusations.

Last month, North Korea said the South’s navy fired into Northern waters and, in retaliation, it shelled Yeonpyeong Island, killing four South Koreans.

“We cannot let North Korea covet even an inch of our territory. Any provocation that would pose a threat to our lives and property will not be tolerated,” said Lee.

Over the weekend, officials in North Korea called for better ties with South Korea, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. North Korea urged dialogue and cooperation in 2011 and asked the South to end its military exercises.

South Korea’s president said in his televised address that North Korea needs to work toward peace with deeds as well as with words.

“I remind the North that the path toward peace is yet open. The door for dialogue is still open. If the North exhibits sincerity, we have both the will and the plan to drastically enhance economic cooperation together with the international community,” he said.

The U.S. special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, is expected to travel to South Korea, China and Japan this week to discuss next steps on the Korean Peninsula. His first stop is Seoul. (*)

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak says door for inter-Korean dialogue still open

Jan. 1, SEOUL, South Korea -- President Lee Myung-bak gives a New Year's message at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Jan. 1. (Yonhap)

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SEOUL, Jan. 3 (KATAKAMI / Yonhap) — South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Monday that the door for inter-Korean dialogue remains open but North Korea should first show its seriousness about the talks.

“I remind the North that the path toward peace is yet open. The door for dialogue is still open,” Lee said in his New Year’s address broadcast live.  (*)

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak delivers New Year's message

Jan. 1, SEOUL, South Korea -- President Lee Myung-bak gives a New Year's message at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Jan. 1. (Yonhap)

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SEOUL, Jan. 1 (KATAKAMI / Yonhap) — President Lee Myung-bak expressed confidence Saturday that South Korea will bring peace to the peninsula and attain further economic development in the new year.

“In the new year of 2011, I am confident that we will be able to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula and continue sustained economic growth,” Lee said in his New Year’s message. “I believe in the potential of the Korean people who always come together and turn crises into opportunities.”

He said the country’s fortunes are on an upswing in the international community.

He pointed out that South Korea achieved 5-percent economic growth, the highest among OECD member countries, in 2010 and became the world’s seventh largest exporting nation. South Korea also successfully hosted the G-20 economic summit and forged free trade agreements with the European Union and the United States, he said.

“Even though our land is small, our economic territory has become the largest in the world,” he said. “Korea has now emerged as a hub of free trade.”

The president said those achievements can be ascribed to the painstaking efforts by all Korean people.

“We should not let the chance to increase our national fortunes slip away. We must not hesitate to leap over the threshold to become an advanced country,” he said.  (*)



MS

South Korean Prime Minister leaves for trip to South America

South Korea's Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik Photo : REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

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SEOUL, Dec. 30 (KATAKAMI / Yonhap) — South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik left for Brazil’s capital city of Brasilia on Thursday to attend the inauguration of the South American nation’s new president.

Kim will represent South Korea at Dilma Rousseff’s inauguration on New Year’s Day. He will also meet with Brazilian officials to promote efforts by South Korean companies to win a bid for the construction of a high-speed railway in the country.  (*)

South Korea Again Describes North Korea as 'Enemy'

South Korean protesters burn a placard showing the defaced portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (L) and his youngest son and successor-in-waiting Kim Jong-un (R) during an anti-North Korea rally in Seoul, 28 Dec 2010

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December 29, 2010 (KATAKAMI / VOA) —North Korea is again the “enemy” of South Korea, a designation that has not been used for six years.

The designation is given to the North in South Korea’s latest defense white paper. But the document does not revive the designation of the communist state as the “main enemy.” The paper also delves into details about North Korea’s military capabilities.

The deputy defense minister for policy, Chang Kwang-il, explains why the label is again being applied.

Chang says this is to inform the South Korean public of the reality of North Korea and it sends a strong warning to Pyongyang.

The government, however, refrained from calling Pyongyang its “main enemy”, a designation used in the 1990s.

The defense ministry review, released on Thursday, details North Korea’s military capabilities. It says the North has deployed large artillery guns and new, more powerful tanks near the border with the South. It also has added new elite forces trained to infiltrate the South and disrupt critical facilities.

The document says North Korea’s plans to rely on its nuclear weapons, its long-range artillery, submarines, cyber-warfare and special forces to counter the South’s high-technology military.

The deputy defense minister says since the last assessment, in 2008, North Korea has added 20,000 special forces troops.

Chang estimates North Korea now has 200,000 special forces soldiers, installed in light infantry units and placed on the front lines.

The report says North Korea’s total force remains unchanged at 1,190,000 troops.

By comparison, South Korea has an active-duty force of 650,000. About 28,000 American troops are also stationed in the country.

The updated assessment of North Korea’s military comes at the end of a year that saw tensions on the peninsula rise to their highest level in decades.

North Korea is blamed for the sinking of a South Korean navy ship in the Yellow Sea, in March. Pyongyang denies responsibility for the incident, in which 46 sailors died.

In November, North Korea shelled a South Korean island in the same waters, killing four people.

The two Koreas fought a devastating three-year war to a stalemate in the early 1950’s. A truce, but no peace treaty, has been in place since then.  (*)

South Korea's Lee says talks the answer to nuclear crisis

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

 

December 29, 2010 SEOUL (KATAKAMI / Reuters) – South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who has vowed a tough stance against any further attack by North Korea, said on Wednesday the nuclear crisis must be tackled by negotiation.

Lee also called for fresh dialogue between the rival Koreas, saying a hardline military policy alone by Seoul, while offering an effective deterrent, will not ease the tension.

Stalled talks by six countries, which the North walked out of two years ago, were the only available forum to end the North’s nuclear program in return for economic aid and diplomatic recognition, Lee said at a policy briefing by the Foreign Ministry.

“I think removal of the North Korea nuclear programs should be achieved through six-party talks next year as North Korea targets 2012 for its achievement of a power country,” he said.

North Korea attacked the southern island of Yeonpyeong on Nov 23, killing four people. It was also blamed by the United States and South Korea for sinking a South Korean naval vessel in March, killing 46 sailors.

Like the United States, South Korea has signaled that it is loath to restart the diplomatic process — also involving China, Japan, and Russia — unless its reclusive neighbor shows steps toward completely dismantling its nuclear program.

China, the North’s main ally and economic backer, has called for a restart of the six-party talks without preconditions.

Lee said South Korea, however, must not let down its military guard against the North.

“Ensuring peace on the Korea peninsula is an important task going forward but this can’t be done with diplomacy only. I think we need strong defense capabilities and unity among the people should be achieved as prerequisites.”

But he made a fresh call for dialogue between the rivals, saying: “There must be efforts also to try to establish peace through dialogue between the South and the North.”

Lee has come under pressure over a perceived weak response to the Yeonpyeong attack that raised tension on the peninsula to the highest level since the 1950-53 Korean War.

Lee last week vowed “a merciless counterattack” against any fresh North Korean assaults as the South Korean army held rare large-scale military drills near the border in a demonstration of military might.  (*)

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.  (*)

President Lee Myung-bak orders swift military reform to tackle N. Korea's provocation

FILE : South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, center, arrives with Defense Minister Kim Tae-young, second right, at the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the military was put on top alert after North Korea's artillery attack on South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Yonhap)

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SEOUL, Dec. 28 (KATAKAMI / Yonhap) — President Lee Myung-bak called Tuesday for “quick and bold” military reform, saying public misgivings about South Korea’s defense posture have deepened throughout this year.

Presiding over a weekly Cabinet meeting, this year’s last session, Lee said the country’s 6.1 percent economic growth and falling youth jobless rates in 2010 have been overshadowed by security loopholes laid bare by a series of North Korean attacks.  (*)

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates due in Seoul on N. Korean provocations: Pentagon

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 27 (KATAKAMI / Yonhap) — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will visit South Korea next month to discuss enhancing the alliance with South Korea, the Pentagon said Monday.

Gates will meet with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin while in Seoul on Jan. 14, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said, adding they will discuss ways to “address the threats posed by North Korean provocations and its nuclear and missile programs.”

The chief U.S. defense official will also travel to Beijing and Tokyo, Morrell said.

The visit comes amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula after North Korea’s shelling of a South Korean island last month that killed four people in the first attack on South Korean soil targeting civilians since the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War.

North Korea had backed away from its earlier threat to retaliate to a series of military drills South Korea conducted independently and jointly with the U.S. in recent weeks in a show of force against further provocations.

The South Korean military, however, still remains on high alert.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who traveled to Pyongyang earlier this month to help ease tensions, meanwhile, had briefed the State Department on his trip to North Korea, the department said.

Deputy spokesman Mark Toner, however, dismissed Richardson’s trip as a private mission.

“Governor Richardson had called Deputy Secretary James Steinberg on Dec. 23,” Toner said in a conference call with reporters. “U.S. citizens are free to travel to North Korea in a private capacity. It’s not for us to give approval.”

Richardson, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in New York, returned from a week-long trip to North Korea last week amid rising tensions after North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and a series of military drills by South Korea in a show of force against further provocations.

The North has proposed a series of rapprochement measures to the troubleshooter.

Among them are the return of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, negotiations for the sale of 12,000 spent nuclear fuel rods and the establishment of a military commission consisting of representatives from the two Koreas and the U.S., and an inter-Korean military hotline to prevent conflicts in the disputed western sea border.

North Korea expelled IAEA monitors early last year in the wake of U.N. Security Council sanctions for a rocket launch seen as a long-range missile test. Months later, Pyongyang detonated its second nuclear device after one in 2006, drawing harsher U.N. sanctions.

Reports said Seoul and Washington have been discussing ways to revive the six-party talks on North Korea’s denuclearization, which have been deadlocked over last month’s shelling and the sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

The return of the international nuclear monitors is one of the preconditions Seoul and its allies have set for the reopening of the nuclear talks, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

“Governor Richardson was kind enough to call Deputy Secretary Steinberg and offer his perspective on the trip and what he found out there,” Toner said. “He brings a great deal of knowledge and we value his perspective. We value his perspective and his insights. Our policy remains the same, but obviously we welcome the input of individuals, private American citizens, with his level of expertise and knowledge.”

Washington will continue to consult Beijing, North Korea’s biggest benefactor, to resolve issues related to North Korea, he said.

“It has a unique relationship with North Korea,” Toner said. “We’re going to continue to work with China to urge North Korea to live up to its commitments, refrain from provocative actions and to act responsibly.”

Richardson told CNN last week that now is the time for the U.S. to re-engage North Korea if Pyongyang refrains from reacting militarily to South Korea’s military drills.

Seoul and Washington have dismissed the gestures as part of the North’s traditional brinkmanship, urging Pyongyang instead to apologize for shelling Yeonpyeong and sinking the Cheonan before returning to the six-party nuclear talks.

South Korea and the U.S. also want the North first to take concrete steps toward denuclearization.

China and Russia want the nuclear talks to reopen as soon as possible unconditionally.

North Korea last month revealed a uranium enrichment plant that it claims is producing fuel for power generation. Concerns persist that the facility could produce highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.

North Korea will be among the topics at the summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao here on Jan. 19, U.S. officials have said, although Washington does not want the rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula to dominate the agenda. (*)

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