South Korea to conduct more military drills


South Korea is set to hold major land and air winter drills this week, the South Korean army said Wednesday, threatening to further raise tensions with North Korea.

The drills, which the South Korean military claims were scheduled in 2009, will be held Thursday in an area adjacent to North Korea.

There had been an easing of tensions on the peninsula after the North backed down from a threat to retaliate against a drill earlier this week. South Korea held live-fire military exercises around the island of Yeonpyeong, a move that North Korea said could ignite a war.

North Korean state media,  KCNA, has since said that Pyongyang would not respond to the Yeonpyeong drills. But both Koreas have traded tough talk since the North's shelling of the island last month, which claimed by the South. That attack was in response to a live-fire drill by the South and killed four people, including civilians.

GlobalPost correspondent Justin McCurry traveled to the island this week to report on how its residents are recovering from the attack.

A top Chinese diplomat at the UN Security Council said hostilities between the two Koreas had come "close to fighting a war."

Fighter jets and tanks and more than 800 South Korean military personnel will take place in Thursday's exercise in Pocheon, about 15 miles away from North Korea, and it will begin at 2 p.m., a media officer from the South Korean army said, according to CNN.

A senior South Korean military commander, First Armoured Battalion commander Choo Eun-Sik, told told the Yonhap news agency that Thursday's drill at the Pocheon range would "demonstrate our solid military preparedness" to "retaliate thoroughly if the North commits another provocative act."

South Korean marines were also reportedly posted to guard a Christmas tree that was lit up Tuesday near the land border, reflecting fears that the North might fire on the display as a propaganda symbol.

Separately, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson returned to the U.S from Pyongyang having secured what ABC News described as a "diplomatic breakthrough" in the region Monday, with the North Koreans agreeing to let U.N. nuclear safety inspectors return to the country.

They also agreed to negotiate the sale of 12,000 fuel rods — enough to make about six to eight nuclear weapons — and ship them out of the country.