SKorean troops bracing for possible NKorean attack

YEONPYEONG ISLAND. December 21. KAZINFORM The Republic of Korea (ROK)'s President Lee Myung-bak gathered his national security leaders for strategic talks Tuesday as troops braced for possible DPRK retaliation a day after conducting artillery drills on an island the DPRK bombed last month; Kazinform refers to China Daily.

The DPRK has so far backed off threats to strike the ROK again for conducting live-fire military drills on Yeonpyeong Island. Similar drills last month triggered a DPRK's artillery attack that killed four people in the ROK, including two civilians.

Still, South Korea's military said it was prepared for any unexpected DPRK provocation.

"We will mobilize reconnaissance and surveillance assets of South Korea and the US combined force and intensively monitor North Korea's military activities," Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told lawmakers before leaving for the security meeting.

Meanwhile, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson praised the DPRK's "statesmanlike" restraint as he wrapped up a four-day trip to the DPRK.

Richardson, a former US ambassador to the United Nations who has served as an unofficial envoy to the DPRK in the past, told Associated Press Television News in Pyongyang that his trip yielded "positive" results.

"It was a good visit _ positive results in our discussions with North Korea," he said Tuesday morning before boarding a plane in Pyongyang.

Richardson said the North agreed to let UN atomic inspectors visit its main nuclear complex to make sure the DPRK is not producing enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb, according to a statement from his office.

The United States, however, indicated skepticism that the DPRK would do anything more than talk.

"North Korea talks a great game. They always do," US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in Washington. "The real issue is what will they do. If they are agreeable to returning IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors to their country, they need to tell the IAEA that."

The DPRK expelled UN inspectors last year, and last month showed a visiting American scientist a new, highly advanced uranium enrichment facility that could give it a second way to make atomic bombs, in addition to its plutonium program. Richardson also said that Pyongyang was willing to sell fresh fuel rods, potentially to the ROK.

"This is the way countries are supposed to act," Crowley told reporters. "The South Korean exercise was defensive in nature. The North Koreans were notified in advance. There was no basis for a belligerent response."

The DPRK's apparent conciliatory gestures came after the ROK launched fighter jets, evacuated hundreds of residents near its tense land border with the North and sent residents of islands near disputed waters into underground bunkers in case Pyongyang followed through on a vow to attack over the drills.

"We have to show North Korea that we are committed to respond to any kind of North Korean provocation," a senior ROK government official said Tuesday.

He said the lack of response Monday did not mean Pyongyang was backing down, noting that the DPRK thrives on "surprise" attacks and that ROK's military was braced for possible provocations in coming days. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the matter.

The DPRK has previously been accused of using a mix of aggression and conciliatory gestures to force international negotiations that usually net it much-needed aid. Real progress on efforts to rid the North of its nuclear weapons programs has been rare.

On Nov 23, the DPRK shelled Yeonpyeong Island, a tiny enclave of fishing communities and military bases about 7 miles (11 kilometers) from the DPRK's shores in response to an earlier round of ROK's live-fire maneuvers; Kazinform cites China Daily.

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