NKorea's Kim commands military live-fire drills

March 15, 2012 - 1:06 AM

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea's new leader Kim Jong Un commanded live-fire drills involving all three branches of the military, state media reported Thursday, as he bolsters his credentials as commander in chief.

It's a high-profile military appearance for Kim, who has taken over a slew of prominent titles including supreme commander of the country's 1.2 million-member military following his father Kim Jong Il's death in December. Kim Jong Un has made a series of visits to military bases in recent weeks.

North Korea has recently stepped up rhetoric against South Korea over its ongoing military drills with the United States, though Pyongyang and Washington last month announced a deal for the North to suspend uranium enrichment and refrain from missile and nuclear tests in exchange for food aid.

Kim oversaw the combined drills in the presence of top military and political advisers and ordered troops to "mercilessly" retaliate against any enemy provocation, the official Korean Central News Agency said in its report.

Pyongyang has issued similar warnings in the past in times of tension with Seoul and Washington.

The North's state TV aired photos showing artillery systems mounted on military trucks belching fire and fighter jets screaming through the clear sky and firing at targets at sea while navy warships sailed across the waters. Kim, clad in a dark overcoat, was shown watching the drills though binoculars and saluting to clapping uniformed military officers.

Late last month, North Korea promised to freeze its nuclear activities and allow U.N. nuclear inspections in return for the United States providing 240,000 metric tons of food aid.

North Korean and U.S. officials met in Beijing last week to finalize the food aid and a U.S. senator on Friday cited North Korea's top nuclear envoy attending a New York forum as telling him that Pyongyang would live up to its pledge to freeze nuclear activities.

In another sign of its warming ties with the West, orchestras from North Korea and France held a rare joint concert in Paris on Wednesday. The performance was conducted by South Korean maestro Chung Myung-whun.

The Korean peninsula officially remains at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.