S. Korea ends artillery drills from border island

UN diplomats fail to find any solution to ease fears of a new war on the Korean peninsula; North promises harsh response to drills.

South Korean Marines 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
South Korean Marines 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
YEONPYEONG ISLAND, South Korea  — Yonhap news agency reported Monday that South Korea has ended maritime artillery drills from a front-line island attacked last month by North Korea.
South Korea said it launched fighter jets to deter any North Korean attacks during the hour-long drills on Yeonpyeong. There were no immediate signs of any North Korean retaliation.
RELATED:UN chief urges North Korea to show restraintGlobal Affairs: Why a brazen N. Korea is Israel's concern
UN diplomats meeting in New York failed to find any solution to ease fears of a new war on the Korean peninsula, nearly a month after the North shelled South Korea's Yeonpyeong island in retaliation for earlier artillery exercises there. The North has said it would respond even more harshly to any new drills from the Yellow Sea island.
South Korea's move to launch new drills from Yeonpyeong brought tensions to their highest point since the North's Nov. 23 bombardment, which killed two South Korean marines and two civilians in the North's first attack targeting civilian areas since the 1950-53 Korean War.
South Korean marines on Yeonpyeong, a tiny enclave of fishing communities and military bases within sight of North Korean shores, were to conduct the live-fire drills from the island later Monday, although the exact timing will depend on weather conditions, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defense Ministry said.
South Korea's military will "immediately and sternly" deal with any North Korean provocation, a Joint Chiefs of Staff officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.
Residents, local officials and journalists on Yeonpyeong and four other islands were ordered to evacuate to underground shelters because of possible attacks by North Korea, Ongjin County government spokesman Won Ji-young said.
The Defense Ministry said the artillery drills were to be staged sometime Monday afternoon. The drills were to last about two hours and involve several types of weapons, including K-9 self-propelled guns, ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters, according to his office.
The North, which considers the waters around Yeonpyeong its own territory, has warned of a "catastrophe" if South Korea goes ahead with the drills. The North says it warned South Korea before last month's shelling not to conduct similar live-fire drills from Yeonpyeong.
UN fails to agree on statement about Korea tensions
The UN Security Council failed Sunday to agree on a statement to address rising tensions on the Korean peninsula.
US Ambassador Susan Rice said the United States and other council members demanded that the council condemn North Korea for two deadly attacks this year that have helped send relations to their lowest point in decades. But diplomats said China strongly objected.
After eight hours of closed-door consultations Sunday, Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who called the emergency council meeting, told reporters "we were not successful in bridging all the bridges."
Although some countries still need to consult capitals, Rice said "the gaps that remain are unlikely to be bridged."
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, called for restraint from all parties concerned to avoid escalation, according to China's official Xinhua News Agency.