Foreign minister travels to Russia amid a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed to ease tension on the Korean peninsula.
|The exchange of fire on November 23 on Yeonpyeong island quickly raised tensions on the Korean peninsula [AFP]|
Russia has asked South Korea to stop a scheduled joint military exercise with the United States, hours after North Korea warned it will strike back if the South proceeds with the drill.
The foreign ministry in Moscow on Friday summoned South Korean and US ambassadors to express its “deep concern” over South Korea’s plans to carry out live-fire drills over the weekend.
The ministry in a statement called on Seoul to “refrain from holding the planned firing of artillery in order to prevent the further escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula”.
Russia’s intervention follows a warning by North Korea earlier on Friday that it will retaliate if the South holds the drills near the disputed border in the Yellow Sea on Yeonpyeong Island, which the North shelled last month.
The ministry said a similar drill on November 23 had “provoked an exchange of fire … that caused casualties”, echoing North Korea’s assertion that its shelling of the island was a response to South Korean artillery fire.
The Russian ministry also said it was “extremely important” to ease tension between the two Koreas, restore dialogue and resolve all disputes without using force.
Russia, a member of the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament, hosted the North Korean foreign minister last week in a bid to help the two Koreas negotiate their way out of the escalating dispute.
When Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, met with his North Korean counterpart on Monday, he said military exercises had added to tension but also that the North’s shelling of the island deserved condemnation, according to the ministry.
North Korean threat
Russia, which shares a short border with North Korea, has put its forces in the country’s far east on alert because of the Korean tension, the Interfax news agency cited the chief of the military general staff as saying on Tuesday.
Earlier on Friday, North Korea ramped up the tensions with a warning that it will retaliate with deadly force if the South goes ahead with the joint exercises.
In a statement carried by the North Korean official news agency the military said it “will deal the second and third unpredictable self-defensive blow” to protect its territorial waters and that it will be “deadlier than what was made on November 23 in terms of the powerfulness and sphere of the strike”.
An earlier statement posted on Pyongyang’s official website Uriminzokkiri warned that another war with South Korea would involve nuclear weapons.
The bombardment of Yeonpyeong island last month killed two marines and two civilians. It also injured 18 people and damaged dozens of homes, and came after a firing drill into the sea by South Korean marines based on the island.
The South, outraged at the first shelling of civilian areas since the 1950-53 war, has fortified the island with more troops and artillery and vowed to use air power against any future attack.
Its military has said artillery will be aimed away from the North as usual during the upcoming drill, but it will respond strongly if provoked.
Members of the US-led UN Command are scheduled to observe the drill and about 20 US soldiers will play a supporting role.
Meanwhile in Seoul a group of anti-war protesters staged a rally in front of the defence ministry, urging the military exercise be stopped.
Residents of Yeonpyeong island were also concerned about the live-fire drill, and some of them have gathered on the beach to pray for a peaceful outcome to the current crisis.