N.Korea predicts 'disaster' if S.Korea drill goes ahead
North Korea Saturday predicted "disaster" if South Korea goes ahead with a live-fire artillery exercise on a border island bombarded by the communist state last month.
The North has threatened an even deadlier attack on the South if the one-day drill scheduled for between December 18 and 21 is staged on Yeonpyeong island near the disputed Yellow Sea border.
A foreign ministry statement, quoted by the official news agency, accused US troops -- some 20 of whom who will take part in the drill -- of providing a "human shield" for the upcoming exercise, and repeated threats to attack.
"The US Department of State sent a threatening message to the DPRK (North Korea), urging it not to forget there are Americans and foreign reporters on the island. The US is providing even 'a human shield'," the statement said.
The North said the upcoming exercise "would make it impossible to prevent the situation on the Korean peninsula from exploding and escape its ensuing disaster".
It said its military has already threatened "decisive and merciless punishment" for such an action and "does not make an empty talk".
Pyongyang disputes the Yellow Sea border drawn by United Nations forces after the 1950-53 war. It claims the waters around Yeonpyeong and other South Korean frontline islands as its own maritime territory.
It says the last drill on November 23 dropped shells into its waters.
Hours later that day, the North's artillery attack killed two marines and two civilians on Yeonpyeong, damaged dozens of homes and sparked a regional security crisis.
The first shelling of civilian areas since the 1950-53 war sparked outrage in the South, which rushed more troops and guns to the frontline islands.
South Korean officials said the upcoming exercise is likely to be held on Monday or Tuesday when the weather is better.
Russia and China have urged the South to cancel its plan. Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun said Beijing was "deeply concerned and worried" about the situation on the peninsula, the state Xinhua news agency reported.
Russia on Saturday called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting over the situation, diplomatic sources at the UN said.
US politician Bill Richardson, who is visiting Pyongyang, described the situation as a "tinderbox".
"Some reports say the drill may be postponed or cancelled due to diplomatic or external factors, but we won't be affected and will go ahead with the drill," a senior Seoul defence ministry official told Yonhap news agency on condition of anonymity.
The North accused the United States of stirring up South Korea to stage a provocative act.
It said the plan for the drill was reached during a visit to Seoul last week by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The North said the United States "does not hesitate to harass peace and stability of a country for meeting its strategic interests.
"The DPRK (North Korea) will force the US to pay dearly for all the worst situations prevailing on the peninsula and its ensuing consequences."
US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley Friday defended the South's right to hold the drill in the face of North Korea's "ongoing provocations".
But he said Washington trusts that its ally the South "will be very cautious in terms of what it does".
On Yeonpyeong, anti-Pyongyang activists launched giant balloons carrying 200,000 leaflets denouncing last month's attack towards the North's coastline 12 km (seven miles) away.
"Strike Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un who attacked South Korea," read one, in reference to Kim's youngest son Jong-Un, the heir apparent.
They scuffled briefly with some islanders, who are fearful of a new attack.
"The situation makes me too nervous to stay since North Korea may fire artillery at any time in the near future," said farmer Kang Yeong-Gil, 67, adding he would leave as soon as he sells his rice crop.
Richardson, a veteran troubleshooter with Pyongyang, said he urged North Korean officials to let the South go ahead with the drill.
"I'm urging them extreme restraint," the New Mexico governor told CNN, saying he was "very, very strong with foreign ministry officials" during a dinner on Friday.
Richardson made a series of proposals to the North on Saturday, CNN reported without going into detail.
© 2010 AFP