In the News – North Korea Warns South Over Military Drill but Accepts Food Aid
Published: January 27, 2012
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea warned on Friday that a South Korean military drill around frontline islands could lead to a “full-scale war,” even as it allowed South Korean trucks carrying privatefood aid for North Korean children to cross the border.
One hundred and eighty tons of flour from the Korea Peace Foundation was the first such aid shipment since the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il died last month, leaving his youngest son,Kim Jong-un, as his heir and leaving the peninsula jittery.
As the North Korean government has focused on consolidating the leadership succession, it has vowed never to deal with the government of President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea, who has taken a tougher stand on the North than his predecessors did.
The North Korean government continued its strident rhetoric against Seoul on Friday, criticizing the live-fire exercise conducted a day earlier around several South Korean islands near the North’s southwest coast.
South Korea increased its defenses and military exercises in the area after a North Korean artillery attack in 2010 against one of the islands killed four South Koreans.
“The gunfire in the area can trigger a military clash between the two sides,” said a commentary carried by the North Korean government Web site Uriminzokkiri.com. “It then can escalate into a full-scale war.”
North Korea has said it was forced to conduct the 2010 artillery attack in response to a South Korean military drill in frontline waters.
Some analysts and research organizations in South Korea have expressed fears that Kim Jong-un may try to use military provocations against the South to bolster his credentials as a strong leader. But other analysts believe that Mr. Kim will not take that kind of risk until he is sure of his grip on power.
Tension is especially high over the waters near the South Korean border islands; the waters are claimed by both Koreas. The two navies have clashed there in recent years.
South Korea has said it will not provide large-scale food aid unless the North makes significant progress in ending its nuclear weapons program. But it has allowed civic groups to send small aid shipments for North Korean children, including flour, medicine and soy milk.
On Friday, the South’s Unification Ministry said that the amount of food, medicine and other aid to the North fell sharply last year. The value of the aid from both private agencies and the government dropped to 19.6 billion won, or $17.5 million, down more than 51 percent from the previous year.
Inter-Korean trade fell by more than 10 percent, to about $1.5 million in 2011, the ministry said.