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(LEAD) S. Korean military says Yellow Sea firing drill to be conducted Monday
SEOUL, Dec. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's military plans to hold live-fire exercises later Monday from a border island shelled by North Korea last month, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, sending tensions soaring amid Pyongyang's threats to strike back if the drills go ahead.

   The communist nation has warned that it would respond to the South's artillery drills from Yeonpyeong Island with "unpredictable self-defensive blows," sparking fears of a recurrence of last month's deadly clash in which the North bombarded the Yellow Sea island.

   The shelling devastated the fishing village, killing four people, including two civilians.

   "The military has decided to conduct the firing drill today (Monday)," said a JCS official, adding the exercise will be held south of the inter-Korean maritime border. "The exact time for the firing drill will depend on the weather conditions around the island area."

   Sources said the drills are likely to be held between 11 a.m. and noon.

   Officials said they were broadcasting warnings that those staying on the island take refuge. About 280 people, including residents, reporters and government officials, are staying on the island near the Yellow Sea border between the two sides, officials said.

   "This exercise is a routine and legitimate one that we have regularly held from a long time ago to defend the northwestern islands," a JCS official said on condition of anonymity. "Representatives from the Armistice Commission and the United Nations Command plan to watch the drill."

   South Korea is watching the North's military moves closely while maintaining full preparedness to respond to possible North Korean provocations, the official said, pledging to give an "immediate and strong" response in case of provocations.

  
South Korean marines patrol on Yeonpyeong Island on Dec. 20 amid rising tensions over a planned live-fire drill. (Yonhap)


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