SKorea staging artillery drills at border island

January 26, 2012 - 7:15 AM

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea staged live-fire drills Thursday from a front-line island shelled by North Korea in 2010, in the first such exercise since North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died last month. The North called the maneuvers belligerent.

Marines at Yeonpyeong Island and nearby Baengnyeong Island fired artillery into waters near the disputed sea border during the two-hour-long drills, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said. North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said later in the day that the South was "kicking up war fever" by simulating a pre-emptive strike.

Similar drills at Yeonpyeong in November 2010 triggered a North Korean artillery bombardment that killed four South Koreans.

The latest drills were routine exercises and there haven't been any suspicious activities by North Korea's military, the South Korean official said on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.

South Korea last held artillery drills at the front-line islands on Dec. 12, five days before Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack, the official said.

Ties between the two Koreas remain frosty with North Korea vowing to retaliate against South Korea over its decision to bar all of its citizens, except for two private delegations, from visiting to pay respects after Kim's death.

The two sides are still technically at war because their conflict in the early 1950s ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Tension between the countries sharply rose in 2010 in the wake of North Korea's shelling of Yeonpyeong and a deadly warship sinking blamed on Pyongyang. North Korea has flatly denied its involvement in the sinking that killed 46 sailors.

South Korean and U.S. troops regularly conduct joint military drills, drawing angry responses from North Korea, which consider them as a rehearsal for a northward invasion.

On Sunday, the KCNA blasted South Korea and the United States over reports they plan a large-scale amphibious drills in March. A KCNA dispatch said the planned drills showed the allies' "wild design to stifle (North Korea) by force of arms."