- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 6, 2012

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korean troops brandished weapons given to them by new leader Kim Jong-un as they carried out live-fire drills near the disputed sea boundary with South Korea amid more anger from Pyongyang over joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

The Associated Press was among select media allowed to observe drills Sunday and Monday on North Korea’s southwestern coast, which faces disputed waters where the Koreas have fought three bloody sea battles since 1999.

A North Korean shelling that Pyongyang said was provoked by South Korean live-fire drills on nearby Yeonpyeong Island killed four South Koreans in November 2010.

North Korea state media and senior officials have denounced the U.S.-South Korean drills set to run through April, raising worries that friction between the Koreas will complicate efforts to settle a long-running nuclear standoff.

Washington has said that better inter-Korean ties are crucial to the success of nuclear diplomacy.

The tension between the North and South comes before envoys from the U.S. and North Korea meet Wednesday in Beijing to discuss technical details about the distribution of 240,000 metric tons of food aid promised by the U.S.

In an agreement announced last week, North Korea will receive U.S. food aid in return for it freezing nuclear activities and allowing back U.N. nuclear inspections.

The nuclear deal’s announcement raised hopes for improved ties between Washington and Pyongyang and for a resumption of dormant six-nation talks on curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

The talks involving the Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan have been deadlocked since North Korea pulled out in April 2009.

As the young Mr. Kim has seeked to bolster support, he has toured the heavily armed border with South Korea and visited several military units.

North Korea calls the U.S.-South Korean maneuvers preparation for an invasion and an affront because they are happening during the semiofficial 100-day mourning period after Kim Jong-il’s death.

Seoul and Washington say their exercises are routine and defensive in nature.

North Korea also has threatened revenge against South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who ended a no-strings-attached aid policy when he took office in 2008.

North Korea has expressed anger over a South Korean military unit near Seoul recently posting threatening slogans beneath portraits of Kim Jong-un and his father.

During drills this week, North Korean military commanders warned of a harsher attack than the 2010 shelling.

“We only fired a small number of artillery last time. We will mobilize all our corps’ artillery pieces to turn them into a real sea of fire this time,” Col. Gen. Pyon In Son, commander of the 4th Corps of the Korean People’s Army, told the AP.

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