South Korea’s Lee vows retaliation if North Korea attacks again

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SEOUL — South Korea’s president vowed relentless retaliation against North Korea if provoked again, saying Monday he is not afraid of war with the communist North.

The two Koreas have ramped up their rhetoric since North Korea shelled front-line Yeonpyeong Island near the tense western sea border last month, killing four South Koreans. Both sides accuse the other of triggering the Nov. 23 exchange of artillery.

On Monday, President Lee Myung-bak used his regular radio address to vow to get tougher with any new provocation by North Korea.

“We have now been awakened to the realization that war can be prevented and peace assured only when such provocations are met with a strong response,” Mr. Lee said. “Fear of war is never helpful in preventing war.”

He said South Korea’s military “must respond relentlessly when they come under attack.”

Mr. Lee urged South Koreans to be more united on national security because North Korea tries to take advantage of any division in public opinions in the South.

“There can be no difference between you and me when it comes to national security because our lives and the survival of the nation depend on it,” he said. “They always have their eyes open to take advantage of any opportunity if they detect any divisiveness in our minds and thoughts.”

South Korea has staged a series of military drills — including one on Yeonpyeong Island on Dec. 20 — in a show of force against the North since the artillery bombardment. The South also has threatened airstrikes if hit again, has ordered more troops on front-line islands and is pushing for upgraded rules of engagement to allow for a more forceful response to future provocations.

North Korea, for its part, has also kept up rhetoric as it marks the 19th anniversary of leader Kim Jong-il’s appointment as the country’s supreme military commander. Mr. Kim’s military chief threatened last week to launch a “sacred” nuclear war against the South.

The North’s main newspaper warned Monday that South Korea’s recent exercises are “reckless military provocation” that could lead the South down a path to self-destruction.

“There is limit to our patience,” said the Rodong Sinmun commentary carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The provocations may continue unabated into 2011, said a report issued by the state-run Institute for National Security Strategy in Seoul.

North Korea may invade Yeonpyeong and other Yellow Sea border islands next year as part of belligerence aimed at rallying support among military generals during the transfer of power from Mr. Kim to his third son, Kim Jong-un, it said.

The son, who is in his 20s, was promoted to four-star general and appointed to key political posts this year in his formal debut as his father’s heir apparent.

Earlier Monday, Pyongyang’s state TV broadcast a lengthy documentary chronicling leader Kim Jong-il’s recent public activities, including his attendance at the ruling Workers’ Party convention in late September and a massive military parade in October.

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