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  North Korea blasts Seoul over US-led sea drills

AFP | November 5, 2006

North Korea denounced South Korea Sunday for sending a government delegation to US-led sea drills aimed at stopping cargo carrying weapons of mass destruction in the Gulf.
"This is an outright perfidy to the North," Rodong Sinmun, the North's ruling Communist Party paper, said in protest to the South's sending of three observers to the drills off Bahrain late last month.

"Their behavior of blindly toeing US policy to ignite a war on this land at any cost would only bring catastrophic consequences."

Pyongyang, accusing the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) drills of targeting North Korean cargo, has urged Seoul not to join them.

But South Korea, a US ally, has been under growing pressure to play a greater role in PSI exercises, following North Korea's October 9 nuclear test.

In a diplomatic move designed to placate both sides, the South has just sent observers to the sea drills, instead of actually sending ships or troops to join the maneuvers.

But Rodong said the drills "constitute part of the sanctions, blockade and military pressure" upon North Korea.

Seoul is considering ways to expand its roles in PSI without joining any sea blockades against North Korea.

Officials in Seoul said South Korea's active participation in the PSI exercises could lead to armed clashes with North Korea. The two Koreas have been technically at war since a bloody 1950-1953 conflict.

The two Koreas had several sailors killed and ships sunk in clashes in disputed waters in 1999 and 2002.

The UN Security Council has adopted a resolution to broaden sanctions, including cargo inspections, against North Korea for its nuclear test.

North Korea has since told South Korea not to enforce the sanctions, which Pyongyang said were tantamount to a declaration of war.

PSI is a US initiative involving multinational exercises on the interdiction of vessels and airliners suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction or related materials.

Previous drills involved high-speed maritime chases and commandos rappelling onto vessels from helicopters or clambering aboard from fast boats, with inspectors in chemical suits searching suspect cargo.

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