South Korea stages live-fire drill on front-line islands despite North Korea warnings

South Korean Marines take part in a landing operation which is a part of annual military exercise "Hokuk", on a beach in Pohang on Nov 18, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
South Korean Marines take part in a landing operation which is a part of annual military exercise "Hokuk", on a beach in Pohang on Nov 18, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea staged a live-fire military drill Friday near its disputed Yellow Sea border with North Korea, despite warnings from Pyongyang ahead of a sensitive anniversary.

The drill was held on two front-line islands - one of which was shelled by North Korea on November 23, 2010, killing four people and briefly triggering fears of a full-scale conflict.

The live-fire exercise wrapped up a two-week annual military drill that involved more than 300,000 troops across South Korea and was denounced by the North as a dangerous provocation.

Tensions are currently running high on the Korean peninsula with Pyongyang still smarting from the adoption of a UN resolution condemning its human rights record and recommending its leaders be charged with crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court.

Even before Friday's drill began, the North Korean military warned the "mad provokers" against going ahead with the exercise, saying the South should "never forget the lesson" of 2010.

It was a similar live-fire drill that North Korea cited for its decision to shell Yongpyeong island four years ago.

South Korea's defence ministry responded in kind, saying any aggression by the North this time would be a step towards "self-destruction".

"We will punish North Korean provocations with an immediate counter-attack on their origin without hesitation," ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok told reporters.

The de-facto maritime boundary between the two Koreas - the Northern Limit Line - is not recognised by Pyongyang, which argues it was unilaterally drawn by US-led United Nations forces after the 1950-53 Korean War.

Because the conflict ended with a ceasefire rather than a treaty, the two Koreas remain technically at war.

Both sides complain of frequent maritime incursions by the other, and there have been numerous but limited clashes.

The last few months have seen a number of minor skirmishes involving exchanges of fire along the land and sea borders, but with no reported casualties.

In October, the two Koreas agreed to resume a high-level dialogue but since then have spent most of their time trading accusations of insincerity.