(Adds drills over in second paragraph.)
Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) -- South Korea held live-fire naval drills in disputed waters as a North Korean threat of “merciless punishment” prompted the evacuation of thousands of island residents nearby.
The artillery exercises began around 10 a.m. today and lasted about two hours, said a South Korean Defense Ministry official who asked not to be identified in line with ministry policy. About 8,700 residents of five islands near the drills were sent to 110 evacuation centers until noon, said Kim Hyung Kook, a local civil defense bureau official.
North Korea’s warning of “merciless retaliatory strikes” if the drill trespassed into its territory raised concerns of the repeat of a deadly attack on a South Korean island in 2010 that killed four people. The totalitarian state has maintained hostile rhetoric under new leader Kim Jong Un, and the two sides are separated by the world’s most fortified land border.
Defense-related shares rose on the Korea Exchange with Speco Co., which produces equipment for naval ships, rose 5.1 percent to 2,690 won at 12:21 p.m. in Seoul. Victek Co., a manufacturer of electronic warfare products, rose 6.7 percent to 1,920 won, while Huneed Technologies, which produces military communications equipment, rose 4.9 percent.
No abnormal North Korean military movements were spotted during the South Korean exercises in the West Sea, the defense ministry official said.
South Korea regularly holds such drills in the waters, which the North claims as its territory and have been a flash- point in inter-Korean violence. Today’s exercise was the first such since Kim Jong Un took power after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in December. The younger Kim has moved to fortify support the country’s 1.2 million-strong army via publicized inspections of military units, including those operating near the West Sea.
“These drills are regularly conducted as part of our national security measures, and it is not appropriate for North Korea to say this and that about what’s being held in our territorial waters,” Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung Suk told reporters today in Seoul.
North Korea is “fully prepared for both a local and total war” and threatened “merciless retaliatory strikes” if the drill trespassed its territorial waters, according to a statement yesterday by the official Korean Central News Agency.
--Editors: John Brinsley, Nicholas Wadhams
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