|Preparations are underway for military drills to mark the Cheonan anniversary|
Wednesday, 23 March 2011
South Korea prepares for first anniversary of Cheonan sinking
With the first anniversary of the sinking of South Korean warship approaching, South Korea and their US allies are preparing to mark the date with what might be seen as a rather provocative gesture: major live-fire military drills.
The South Korean corvette Cheonan was sunk on 26th March last year. A Seoul-led international investigation blamed North Korea for the attack, a claim which Pyongyang has denied.
Seoul and the US have been carrying out annual drills since late February. They completed computerised war games on 10th March, but joint field training will continue throughout March and April.
They are currently in the middle of a three day joint military amphibious logistic support exercise in the West Sea that ends Thursday 24th March. Large-scale maritime maneouvers in the East, West and South Seas will take place from Friday to Sunday to mark the first anniversary of the sinking of the Cheonan. Live-fire drills will also be carried in the West and South Seas on Saturday, the day of the sinking.
North Korea sees the drills as a rehearsal for invasion, and consistently protests about them. North Korea disputes the UN-established maritime border in the West Sea (also known as the Yellow Sea) and objects to the south carrying out live fire drills in territory it considers to be its own.
North Korea has also recently accused US troops of trespassing into the Demilitarized Zone and has said that South Korea would have to take responsibility for action resulting from the 'provocations', including 'human damage', according to the southern Korea Herald. The north's military has apparently sent a notice to the south, claiming that some 100 US troops made 50 trespasses into the area from 1-8th March, without any prior notification about their entry.
Another issue causing tensions between the two is that of southern activists and North Korean defectors ballooning anti-north leaflets into northern territory. According to the Korea Herald, a group plans to launch propaganda leaflets on Friday or Saturday this week from the frontier island of Paekryong, despite Pyongyang's threats of artillery retaliation.
They plan to drop some 200,000 leaflets containing news of the Arab uprisings and calling for the overthrow of Kim Jong-Il's regime.
The North Korean military has urged South Korea to halt what it calls 'psychological warfare' immediately and have threatened retribution.
Tensions between the two neighbours have been high since the sinking of the Cheonan a year ago. US-South Korea naval drills in disputed waters in November led to the north firing artillery at Yeonpyeong island, killing four.
The two sides are still technically at war, having never resolved the 1950-3 dispute, and South Korea's continual military action in what it knows to be disputed waters is certainly not helping to reduce tensions. Military talks between the two sides in early February ended in failure.
Sources: Korea Herald, Xinhua, ABC News
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