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S.Korea's Lee says N.Korea must pay price for attack (UPDATED)

By Jung Ha-Won

SEOUL, Monday 29 November 2010 (AFP) - A grim-faced South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak vowed Monday to make North Korea "pay the price" for its "inhumane" artillery attack, a day after China called for diplomacy to end the crisis.

"I can't help expressing my anger over the North Korean regime's cruelty that ignores even the lives of children," Lee said.

It was his first nationally televised address since Pyongyang's forces launched a hail of rockets and shells six days ago, killing two civilians and two marines and setting homes ablaze on a South Korean border island.

"I will make sure we make the North pay the price for any provocations," Lee said.

The North's chief ally China called Sunday for "emergency consultations" on the crisis early next month among chief envoys to stalled six-nation talks on the North's nuclear disarmament.

Lee, in his seven-minute speech, made no reference to China's proposal but said it is "difficult to expect the North to abandon nuclear weapons and military brinkmanship".

South Koreans now know "that any more tolerance and patience will only fan bigger provocations", he said.

The president has come under pressure to take a tougher line after his military's counter-fire against the North's hail of rockets and shells was seen as feeble and led to the resignation of the defence minister.

The US and South Korea began Monday the second day of their biggest-ever naval exercise, aimed at sending a warning to the regime that has previously tested nuclear bombs and is blamed for sinking a South Korean warship in March.

The sinking killed 46 sailors and sharply raised tensions on the peninsula, but the artillery attack was the first on civilian areas in the South since the 1950-53 war.

"The North's provocation this time is in a different level than before," Lee said. "Making a military attack on civilians is an inhumane crime banned even during wartime.

"Now is the time to take actions rather than speaking 100 words," he said without elaborating on what he would do.

The South's military said Monday's joint naval drills, far south of the tense Yellow Sea border, would focus on defence against the North's submarines and guided missiles.

"Monday's drills include a live-fire exercise by multiple aircraft from the (US aircraft carrier) George Washington, which will shoot mock targets in waters," a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff told AFP.

Aegis-class destroyers would hone their capabilities to detect and destroy "hundreds of targets" in the sky, he said.

Eleven ships from the two navies plus aircraft and helicopters and more than 7,000 personnel are taking part in the four-day drill which began Sunday.

North Korea Monday repeated assertions that the drill is bringing the peninsula "to the brink of war" and called it a "grave provocation".

Ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun said "it's a huge mistake if the US and South Korean enemies try to pressure and threaten us" with the US carrier.

"If they provoke us again we will wipe out the bases for invaders and will root out the source of war," it said.

The exercise has also riled China, which sees the Yellow Sea as its own backyard and on Sunday called for the emergency talks on the crisis.

Its top envoy on North Korea, Wu Dawei, stressed his proposal did not constitute a formal resumption of the six-party negotiations. But he said he hoped they would lead to such a resumption soon.

The United States reacted cautiously, with Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, warning against rewarding Pyongyang's "bad behaviour".

South Korea and Japan have also expressed caution. The other six-party members are Russia and the North itself.

China has come under strong international pressure to use its privileged relationship with the communist North in the wake of the artillery strike, but has refrained from condemning Pyongyang.

"Unfortunately China is not behaving as a responsible world power," Senator John McCain, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Sunday.

"I cannot believe that the Chinese should, in a mature fashion, not find it in their interest to restrain North Korea. So far, they are not," he told CNN.

Lee, in unusually frank comments to visiting Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo on Sunday, urged China to take "a fairer and more responsible stance in its relations with the two Koreas".

MySinchew 2010.11.29

 

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