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(LEAD) South Korea, U.S. to start joint naval drill in Yellow Sea on Sunday

All Headlines 15:21 November 24, 2010

(ATTN: ADDS background, official's quote, South Korean military assets from para 5)

SEOUL, Nov. 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States will launch a joint naval drill in the Yellow Sea from Sunday with a nuclear-powered American aircraft carrier participating amid heightened tensions over North Korea's artillery attack on a South Korean island, officials said Wednesday.

"The USS George Washington carrier strike group will join Republic of Korea naval forces in the waters west of the Korean Peninsula from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1 to conduct the next exercise," the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said in a statement.

While the four-day exercise had been planned well before the North's "unprovoked artillery attack, it demonstrates the strength of the ROK-U.S. alliance and our commitment to regional stability through deterrence," the USFK said in the statement. ROK is an acronym of South Korea's official name, Republic of Korea.

South Korea's defense ministry issued a similar statement, saying the exercise is defensive in nature and aimed at increasing deterrence against North Korea.

The allies announced in May a series of joint military exercises this year in a show of force against North Korea after a multinational investigation confirmed that the North fired a torpedo and sank the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, in March, leaving 46 sailors dead.

Sharply raising already-high tensions, North Korea fired about 170 rounds of artillery on Yeonpyeong Island near the Yellow Sea border, killing two marines and wounding 15 others. Three civilians were also hurt and dozens of houses were burned on the populated island.

Wednesday's announcement on the upcoming drill came shortly after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama held telephone talks and agreed on their alliance and commitment to peace and security on the Korean Peninsula.

A senior official at the South's defense ministry said, "Although the exercise was previously planned, the North's artillery attack prompted the allies to announce the schedule today."

An official at the USFK said China has been informed of the planned South Korea-U.S. exercise. China has voiced strong concerns about any military drill involving the U.S. aircraft carrier. In an apparent concession to China's vocal criticism, South Korea and the U.S. relocated their first drill with the George Washington in July to the East Sea from the Yellow Sea.

About five South Korean vessels, including two 4,500-ton destroyers, and anti-submarine aircraft will participate in the forthcoming drill. The U.S. forces also plan to mobilize battleships including the USS Cowpens, USS Shiloh, USS Stethem and USS Fitzgerald, according to the statement.

kdh@yna.co.kr
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