BEIJING: South Korea has staged its largest military exercise of the year in a huge show of force against North Korea to warn against further aggression from its volatile neighbour.
The drills, conducted just south of the heavily armed border, came a month after a North Korean artillery bombardment against a South Korean island killed four, dramatically raising tensions on the peninsula.
About 800 soldiers took part in the exercise – the largest so far this year – which included 30 tanks, armoured personnel carriers, F-15 fighter-jets, artillery pieces, multiple long-range rockets and Cobra helicopter gunships.
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”Tanks raced down mountain roads firing artillery rounds,” Associated Press reported. ”The boom of cannons echoed through the valley and the hills erupted in smoke. Rockets slammed into the side of a hill as helicopters overhead fired rockets at targets and F-15 fighters zoomed by dropping bombs.”
North Korea’s Minister for the People’s Armed Forces said his country was fully prepared to launch ”a sacred war” based on a nuclear deterrent should South Korea and other enemies intrude its sky, land and seas.
Kim Yong-chun said the military exercises were a preparation for war.
The North rejected assertions by the South that the drills were ”routine”, saying in a statement on the KCNA official news agency that such claims were meant ”to conceal the provocative and offensive nature of the exercises”.
The US has backed its ally’s right to hold the defensive exercises, which have been condemned by Russia and China, who have called for restraint and an end to actions that might escalate into war.
A former US ambassador to the United Nations, the Governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, has spent the past few days serving as an unofficial envoy with designs on bringing some stability to the region.
Mr Richardson said the large mobilisation was another test for the North, which has shown restraint in recent days.
”The situation is still a tinderbox,” he said. ”There’s still enormous tension, enormous mistrust and I believe diplomacy is what is needed to get us out of this tinderbox.”