Yeonpyeong: The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency session on Sunday in bid to cool tensions on the Korean peninsula, as bad weather delayed Seoul’s planned firing drill at a disputed border that has enraged Pyongyang.
The stand-off between the two Koreas has raised international concerns that their spat could escalate and quickly spiral out control, with both sides saying they will use military means to defend what they say is their territory off the west coast.
China and Russia have called on both Koreas to avoid actions that could inflame tensions on the divided peninsula. Washington has backed Seoul’s push to go ahead with the planned live-fire drill on Yeonpyeong island, where four South Koreans were killed in an artillery attack last month.
The drill, within eyesight of the North Korean mainland, is scheduled to take place sometime before Tuesday, but bad weather has so far prevented it from taking place.
Underlining international concerns, the Security Council will seek a way out of the crisis -- described as “extremely precarious” and a “tinderbox” by US and Chinese officials --at an emergency session in New York on Sunday at 11:00am.
“We believe that the Security Council must send a restraining signal to the Republic of Korea and DPRK (North) and help launch diplomatic activity with a view to resolving all issues of dispute between the two Korean sides by political and diplomatic means,” Russia’s envoy to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said.
The meeting may produce some kind of statement to help ease tensions.
North Korea has called the artillery fire drill by the South a suicidal war move that would trigger a full-out conflict on peninsula and said it would strike back in self-defence.
The South has said if was attacked in the same manner as last month, it would hit back hard with air power and bombs.
Analysts were sceptical the North would carry through with its threats to hit the South even harder than last month’s bombardment if shells landed in its territory again.
The North will likely respond by holding a live-fire drill on its side of the tensely guarded sea border, if the South went ahead with its exercise, analysts said.
Weather conditions worsened on the normally sleepy island, which has been largely deserted by residents after the 23 November attack.
The South Korean government, which was widely criticised at home for its perceived weak response to the shelling of the island, remained determined to carry out the exercise despite calls to reconsider.
“There is no plan to cancel the exercise. The factor we’re looking at is the weather condition,” a defence ministry official said on the condition of anonymity.
South Korean marines plan to test artillery firing from the island targeting its territorial waters to its southwest, the same type of exercise that North Korea last month called an attack and prompted its shelling of the island.
Concern mounted on the island among the few residents who remained, and anticipation was growing that the drill would take place on Monday.
“I see they have to do what they have to do, but the people here want peace and quiet,” Dan Choon-nam said, after a tearful church service. “We want things to be back to how they were.”
US troubleshooter Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico who is on a private mission to Pyongyang, said he had made some progress in his discussions with officials there.
He told CNN he did not get a firm answer on whether North Korea would physically strike the South again, but added: “It’s still very tense out there.”
“They said there would be a response, but at the same time they hope a UN Security Council resolution would tamp down the situation. It was very clear they were very upset by the potential exercise,” Richardson told CNN from Pyongyang.
North Korea continued with blistering assault on the South and the United States on Saturday, blaming Seoul for conspiring with Washington to bring hostility against a neighbour.
The North’s foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement: “We will be sure to settle scores with the US for the extreme situation on the Korean peninsula.” He added: “Our military does not speak empty words.”