Security council to discuss South and North Korea tension
AP, Sunday 19 Dec 2010
US, Russia and China decided to hold an urgent meeting in the Security Council to put an end to the growing tension between North and South Korea.

A U.S. governor visiting North Korea called for it to show maximum restraint to planned South Korean military drills and hoped the U.N. Security Council would deliver the same message strongly as well, his office said.

A frequent unofficial envoy to the reclusive country, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has held three important meetings with top leaders in the North Korean foreign ministry and the military during his four-day visit.

"I hope that the U.N. Security Council will pass a strong resolution calling for self-restraint from all sides in order to seek peaceful means to resolve this dispute," Richardson said in a statement released by his U.S. office late Saturday. "A U.N. resolution could provide cover for all sides that prevents aggressive military action."

South Korea's military plans one-day, live-fire drills by Tuesday on the same front-line island the North shelled last month as the South's military conducted similar drills. The North warned the drills would cause it to strike back harder than it did last month, when four people were killed on Yeonpyeong Island.

The high tensions prompted the U.N. Security Council on Saturday to schedule an emergency meeting at Russia's request.

The military's position to hold the drills remains unchanged, a Defense Ministry official said, indicating the drills could take place on either Monday or Tuesday due to bad weather on Sunday. He asked not to be identified, citing the issue's sensitivity.

The North's Foreign Ministry said Saturday that South Korea would face an unspecified "catastrophe" if the drills take place, in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. The North also said it would strike harder than before.

South Korea says the drills are routine, defensive in nature and should not be considered threatening. The U.S. supports that and says any country has a right to train for self-defense, but Russia and China, fellow permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have expressed concern.

Russia's Foreign Ministry urged South Korea to cancel to avoid escalating tensions.

The Security Council scheduled emergency closed-door consultations on North Korea on Sunday at Russia's request, said Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. The United States holds the council's rotating presidency this month.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the Russian government believes the Security Council must send "a restraining signal" to North Korea and help launch diplomatic actions to resolve all disputes between North Korea and South Korea.

China, the North's key ally, said it is firmly against any acts that could worsen already-high tensions on the Korean peninsula. "In regard to what could lead to worsening the situation or any escalation of acts of sabotage of regional peace and stability, China is firmly and unambiguously opposed," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement Saturday.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov called for restraint from all parties concerned to avoid escalation of tension on the Korean peninsula, according to China's official Xinhua News Agency.

Marines carrying rifles conducted routine patrols Sunday. About 240 residents, officials and journalists remain on Yeonpyeong on Sunday, said Lim Byung-chan, an official from Ongjin County, which governs the island. He said there is no immediate plan to order a mandatory evacuation to the mainland.

"North Korea said it will deal the powerful ... blow at us if we go ahead and fire artillery. So residents are getting more restless," said Yoon Jin-young, a 48-year-old islander.

Several bloody naval skirmishes occurred along the western sea border in recent years, but last month's assault was the first by the North to target a civilian area since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. The North does not recognize the U.N.-drawn sea border in the area.

The North claims South Korea fired artillery toward its territorial waters before it unleashed shells on the island last month, while the South says it launched shells southward, not toward North Korea, as part of routine exercises.