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'S Korea mulling defence buildup on NKorea sea border'

world Updated: Feb 14, 2009 13:16 IST

AFP
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South Korea will bolster defence on islands near disputed waters in the Yellow Sea, news reports said on Saturday, amid concerns over a possible naval clash with North Korea.

The Munhwa Daily quoted an unidentified official of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as saying counter-measures were being considered as North Korea has been strengthening its artillery capabilities near the sea border since December.

"North Korean artillery guns have often been taken out of their positions on the western coast, with gun barrels vividly exposed, since they began winter military training late last year," the official was quoted as saying.

"We are considering ways to increase K-9 self-propelled guns and ground-to-air missiles on Paengnyong and Yeonpyeong islands," the official said, referring to South Korea's northernmost islands near the sea border with its northern communist neighbour.

South Korea's military does not comment on intelligence matters.

The newspaper said on Friday the number of guns, mostly 100-mm artillery pieces, sited on islands and along the coast in the area increased by 30 percent last year from 2007.

The buildup began in early 2008 when conservative President Lee Myung-Bak took office in Seoul, it quoted an unidentified senior government official as saying.

Inter-Korean relations have steadily worsened since Lee's inauguration in February last year. He rolled back his liberal predecessors' engagement policy towards Pyongyang, enraging the North.

The North has suspended dialogue with the South, imposed tight border controls and warned that armed conflict could break out.

It announced late last month it was scrapping peace accords with the South, including a 1991 pact in which it recognised the Yellow Sea border as an interim frontier.

The announcement fuelled fears of clashes in the area, the scene of bloody naval battles in 1999 and 2002.

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