UNITED NATIONS – The UN Security Council held emergency talks Sunday on escalating tensions between the two Koreas as the South vowed to go ahead with a live-fire military exercise on a frontier island.
The North's military was reported to have heightened its alert status along its coast nearest the planned drill.
US envoy Bill Richardson meanwhile put his own proposals to North Korea's military leadership in Pyongyang in a bid to ease the increasing hostility.
“It's a very, very tense situation, a crisis situation,” Richardson told CNN from Pyongyang.
South Korea has said it will go ahead with a live-fire exercise near Yeonpyeong island on the disputed sea frontier once bad weather lifts. North Korea, which shelled the island last month killing four people, has warned of “disaster” if it proceeds.
The North has boosted the combat readiness of its forces on the Yellow Sea coast nearest to the planned drill, according to a Seoul government source quoted by the South's Yonhap news agency.
An artillery unit has “raised its preparedness level” and some fighter jets have been moved out of an air force hangar, the anonymous source was quoted as saying.
Russia, which demanded the special Security Council meeting, wants UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to send a special envoy to both states to seek “urgent measures” to halt the crisis, diplomats said.
It made the call in a draft statement, sent to the council's other 14 members, which called for “maximum restraint” by North and South Korea, diplomats said.
The Security Council negotiations looked set to become protracted as the Security Council has never managed even to agree a statement on the North's November 23 shelling of Yeonpyeong which set tensions spiralling.
China has blocked any move to condemn North Korea since then.
Most Security Council nations involved in Sunday's talks wanted a statement which criticised the North for the shelling and the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, but Russia and China only wanted a call for restraint and for the envoy to be sent, a diplomat said.
The foreign ministers of China and Russia urged South Korea to cancel its military exercise, during telephone talks on Saturday.
“China firmly opposes any actions to cause tension and worsen the situation,” Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said.
“We are seriously concerned about possible further escalation of tension on the Korean peninsula,” Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said Saturday.
“We believe that the Security Council must send a restraining signal to” South and North Korea, he added.
In Pyongyang, Richardson, governor of New Mexico and a veteran negotiator with the communist North, proposed that the two Koreas set up a military hotline to address border incidents, CNN reported.
He also lobbied for a military commission with members from North and South Korea plus the United States to monitor disputed areas in the Yellow Sea, which includes Yeonpyeong.
Richardson spoke after meeting Major General Pak Rim Su, who leads North Korean forces on the tense border with the South. He described their talks as “very tough” but making “some progress”.
Richardson said Pyongyang was “very, very provoked” by the South's planned drill, although the North Korean general was open to his idea for a military commission.
Pyongyang has threatened “disaster” if the South stages the drill on Yeonpyeong, and a foreign ministry statement Saturday accused US troops — some 20 of whom who will take part in the drill — of providing a “human shield”.
South Korea has rejected calls for the drill to be abandoned, and said the one-day exercise may take place on Monday or Tuesday.
The North's Yeonpyeong attack, the first shelling of civilian areas since the 1950-53 Korean War, sparked outrage in the South, which rushed more troops and guns to frontline islands.
Military tensions have taken off in parallel to new international fears over the North's nuclear arms. It has revealed a uranium enrichment programme which the United States and its allies have said breach Security Council resolutions.
– AFP /ls
Channel News Asia