SEOUL: North Korea held a live-fire drill near its maritime border with South Korea on Tuesday, with Seoul vowing a “strong” response if any shells fall on its side of the disputed boundary.
A similar exercise a month ago resulted in the two rivals firing hundreds of artillery shells into each other’s territorial waters.
North Korea had given advance notice of the drill which began around 5 a.m. (Manila time), the South Korean defense ministry said.
“Our military is fully prepared,” ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said.
“If any shell lands on our side of the border, South Korea will respond strongly,” he added.
The Yonhap news agency reported that South Korean jet fighters had been scrambled to patrol the border area.
Fishing vessels had been warned off and local officials on the border islands of Yeonpyeong and Baengnyeong said residents were advised to leave their homes.
“They’ve been told to move into shelters,” a local official on Baengnyeong told Agence France-Presse, adding that the sound of artillery shelling could be heard in the distance.
North Korea carried out a similar drill on March 31 during which a number of shells dropped into South Korean waters, prompting South Korea to fire back.
The exchange was limited to untargeted shelling into the sea, but fueled tensions that had already risen after North Korea threatened to carry out a nuclear test.
Tuesday’s announcement fol–lowed analysis of recent satellite images suggesting the North was indeed preparing to conduct its fourth atomic detonation, with stepped-up activity detected at its main nuclear test site.
It also followed the visit to Seoul last week by US President Barack Obama, who angered Pyongyang by demanding that the North abandon its nuclear weapons program and by threatening tougher sanctions if it went ahead with another test.
“North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons is a path that leads only to more isolation,” Obama told American troops based in Seoul.
“It’s not a sign of strength. Anybody can make threats. Anyone can move an army. Anyone can show off a missile,” he said.
North Korea denounced Oba–ma’s visit as provocative and said it had only reaffirmed Pyong–yang’s policy of preparing to fight “a full-scale nuclear war.”
North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests, the most recent—and most powerful—in February last year.
The de-facto maritime boundary between the two Koreas—the Northern Limit Line—is not recognised by Pyongyang, which argues it was unilaterally drawn by the US-led United Nations forces after the 1950-53 Korean War.