SKorea to conduct firing drills from border island

SKorea to conduct firing drills from border island

SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea will go ahead with live firing drills Monday despite North Korea's threat to retaliate, the South's military said, sharply ramping up tensions as the U.N. failed to find a solution.

Marines will conduct the one-day artillery drills on Yeonpyeong Island — shelled by a North Korean artillery barrage last month — and the exact timing will be determined by weather conditions, an officer at the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

South Korea's military will "immediately and sternly" deal with any possible provocation by North Korea, the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity citing department rules.

Residents, local officials and journalists on the island were ordered to evacuate to underground shelters because of possible attacks by North Korea, he said.

Yonhap news agency, citing an unidentified military officer, said the firing may start as early as around 11 a.m. (0200 GMT). The Joint Chiefs of Staff officer said he couldn't confirm the report.

The North has warned of a "catastrophe" if South Korea goes ahead with the drills.

The North has said it would strike back harder than it did last month, when two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed on the island.

The U.N. Security Council failed Sunday to agree on a statement to address rising tensions on the Korean peninsula.

U.S. 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 U.N. 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."

By HYUNG-JIN KIM, Associated Press