Seoul to defy North's threats over exercises

NORTH Korea warned South Korea not to stage artillery drills on a front-line island the North bombed last month, saying it would hit back even harder than in the previous attack that killed four South Koreans.

The North warned the South against similar drills before the November 23 shelling that destroyed homes and renewed fears of war on the divided peninsula.

South Korea has said it planned one-day, live-fire drills sometime between today and Tuesday on Yeonpyeong, a tiny island that is home to fishing communities and military bases and sits just seven miles (11 kilometres) from North Korean shores.

Seoul says the timing will depend on weather and other factors and, despite the North's threats, the exercises will go ahead as planned.

The North, which claims nearby waters and has said it considers such drills an infringement of its territory, responded to similar firing exercises by raining artillery shells on Yeonpyeong, killing two marines and two construction workers.

The assault was the first by the North to target a civilian area since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, and caused anger and shock in the South, where TV screens and newspapers were filled with images of islanders fleeing their bombed-out, burning homes.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's government has faced stinging criticism that his military was unprepared for the November 23 attack and reacted too slowly and too weakly.

He has since replaced his defence minister.