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(LEAD) S. Korea to beef up defense as N.K. fires artillery for 3rd day

All Headlines 15:19 January 29, 2010

(ATTN: RECASTS slug, headline, lead; UPDATES with briefing N. Korea's statement)

SEOUL, Jan. 29 (Yonhap) -- North Korea fired dozens more artillery shells near the western maritime border with South Korea for the third consecutive day on Friday, prompting Seoul to seek to install a weapon-location radar system on islands near the border.

The shells fired early Friday appeared to have again landed in the North's own waters north of the Yellow Sea's Northern Limit Line (NLL), de facto maritime border, Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JSC) said.

But tensions will likely persist, as Pyongyang vowed to continue what it claimed are "regular drills" until March 29 while pressing Seoul for peace talks to permanently end their 1950-53 war. The NLL was drawn by the U.S.-led U.N. Command at the end of the Korean War and the communist North has refused to honor it.

The first firing by North Korea was reported Wednesday, prompting the South Korean navy to fire warning shots.

"We have heard about 20 more sounds of gunfire from 7:50 a.m. through 11:50 a.m., near Yeonpyeong Island in the West Sea (as South Korea calls it)," Park Sung-woo, spokesman of Seoul's JSC said. "Shells did not cross the border, but we will continue closely observing the situation throughout the day."

Yeonpyeong Island is located about 80 kilometers west of the northernmost end of South Korea's mainland and 12km from the North.

Due to its proximity to North Korea and waters rich in fish, the island has been a point of high tension between the divided countries. Naval skirmishes occurred in nearby waters in 1999, 2002 and last year.

North Korea watchers in Seoul speculate that Pyongyang's latest provocative gesture may be part of its attempts to pressure the United States and South Korea to respond to its peace treaty proposal by emphasizing that the peninsula is still a war zone. The two Koreas remain technically at war since the Korean War ended in a truce.

To better monitor the firings by North Korea, South Korea is considering positioning an artillery-tracking radar system on islands near the Yellow Sea border, Seoul's defense minister told a parliamentary meeting Friday.

The artillery-hunting radars, dubbed AN/TPQ, are likely to be deployed on Baengnyeong Island and Yeonpyeong Island just south of the western inter-Korean sea border, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young was quoted as saying during the meeting.

The radar system, which is capable of detecting hostile artillery by tracking projectiles in flight and locating launching and landing points, was temporarily deployed last year when tensions rose ahead of the November gunfight.

Pyongyang, meanwhile, again pressed Washington and Seoul to hold negotiations over the issue of forging a peace treaty to officially end the Korean War.

"The timing is just right for the peace negotiations, especially concerning the increased tensions on the Korean Peninsula," said the Rodong Sinmun, a newspaper published by North Korea's ruling Workers' Party, adding that forging the peace treaty is "in line with building up faith toward denuclearization."

Last October, North Korea fired short-range missiles off its east coast as the latest in a series of weapons tests that included the May detonation of its second nuclear device. The communist state then pulled out of the six-party denuclearization talks after the United Nations imposed sanctions for its earlier missile tests.

Analysts here say the latest provocative moves by Pyongyang also indicate its attempt to increase its leverage as it prepares to return to the denuclearization-for-aid six party talks that include South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and China.


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