South Korea set to begin live-fire drills Monday, despite threats of war from the North
On November 23, the last time Seoul conducted live firing drills from Yeonpyeong close to the disputed maritime border off the west coast of the peninsula, Pyongyang shelled the island, killing two civilians and two marines in the worst attack on South Korean territory since the Korean war ended in 1953.
North Korea warned last week that it would strike even harder if the latest drills went ahead. China and Russia have cautioned Seoul against holding the exercise, while the United States has backed South Korea's right to hold the drills.
Both sides have said they will use force to defend what they say is their territory off the west coast, raising international concern that the standoff could quickly spiral out of control.
South Korean officials said the North had been making military preparations similar to those observed ahead of last month's deadly clash, removing covers from coastal artillery and forward-deploying some artillery batteries.
Seoul defends the drills as routine and says it has been holding them on a monthly basis for years. China and Russia say holding the exercise now will only worsen tensions.
Seoul appears determined to go ahead with the drills, anxious to avoid a repeat of domestic criticism in November for its perceived weak response to the shelling of Yeonpyeong.
The South has said if it is attacked in the same manner as last month, it would hit back hard with air power and bombing.
Analysts were skeptical the North would carry through with its threats. The North will most probably respond by holding a live-fire drill on its side of the tensely guarded sea border if the South goes ahead with its exercise, they said.
Get ready, Monday promises to be very interesting.