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S. Korea hosts maritime drill to stop transfer of WMDs
SEOUL, Oct. 13 (Yonhap) -- A multinational maritime drill to prevent the transfer of weapons of mass destruction began in South Korea Wednesday, marking the first time Seoul has hosted such an exercise, officials said.

   Fourteen countries, including the United States, Japan and Australia, are taking part in the two-day exercise under a U.S.-led initiative, code-named "Eastern Endeavor 10," in waters off the southern port of Busan, Seoul's defense ministry said.

   South Korea joined the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) program last year after North Korea's second nuclear test. Seoul announced the plan to host the PSI exercise in May this year, following the March 26 sinking of the Cheonan warship blamed on Pyongyang.

   North Korea, which denies any responsibility for the sinking, has angrily responded to the South's decision to join the PSI, calling it a "declaration of war."

   "The drill practices how to stop and search ships suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction," said a ministry official, adding, "The exercise scenario is not targeting specific nations, including North Korea."

   About 10 ships from South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, including a 9,000-ton U.S. guided missile destroyer, USS Lassen, and two 4,500-ton Korean KDX-II destroyers, are involved in the exercise, ministry officials said. Australia sent P-3C maritime patrol planes and anti-submarine helicopters.

   Other nations, such as France and Canada, sent representatives and observers for the exercise.

   As part of the two-day drill, military officials from the 14 nations held a seminar on Wednesday in Busan to discuss PSI policies by each country and procedures for search operations, the official said.

   The PSI initiative was launched in 2003 by then-U.S. President George W. Bush. The previous PSI drill was held in Australia last month.