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Military readies live-fire drills to deter North's provocations
SEOUL, Dec. 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's military said Friday it will "soon" hold live-ammunition artillery drills along islands near the Yellow Sea border, officials said Friday, as it pledged tougher retaliation for any future aggression by the North following a deadly artillery attack.

   The South's military is also closely watching North Korea's armed forces and gearing up to cope with possible future provocations by the North, including an attack against anti-Pyongyang propaganda loudspeakers in border areas or South Korean warships patrolling the Yellow Sea.
"We plan to resume live-fire artillery drills near five islands in the Yellow Sea, including Yeonpyeong, as soon as possible," said an official at the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

   "Ahead of the drills, we are checking countermeasures against North Korea's further provocations and deployed weapons to launch a counter-strike if the North provokes again during the drills."

   The North's artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, just south of the tense maritime border, killed two civilians and two marines. It marked the North's first attack on a civilian area since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

   The JCS is planning to hold the live-fire artillery drills in 29 locations, including Yeonpyeong, but an exact timing of the drills has not been decided yet, officials said.

   Senior government officials in Seoul, including the chief of the National Intelligence Service, have warned that Pyongyang is likely to repeat an attack against the South.

   In one of the most possible attacks, the North may shoot down loudspeakers the South has set up at the border to broadcast anti-Pyongyang messages, a military source here said.

   The North also may fire its coastline artillery or surface-to-ship missiles at South Korean patrol ships near the Yellow Sea border, according to the source.

   The South's military has been under mounting public criticism that its response to the North's attack on Yeonpyeong was too feeble, prompting President Lee Myung-bak to replace his defense chief.

   At a confirmation hearing earlier in the day, Defense Minister nominee Kim Kwan-jin, a former JCS chairman, told lawmakers that he will "thoroughly retaliate" if North Korea provokes again.

   This week, South Korea and the U.S. wrapped up four days of large-scale naval maneuvers off the Yellow Sea as a pointed warning against North Korea.

   The U.S. and Japan began Friday their largest-ever military exercise in southern Japanese waters close to South Korea. South Korean military officers are taking part in the U.S.-Japan drills as observers.

   kdh@yna.co.kr
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