Calling for national unity, South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak has affirmed his resolve to counter any further provocation by North Korea.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak
About a month after an attack on a South Korean island by North Korean artillery, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak warned against attempts to split the South Korean population. Ever since the incident, there has been an escalation in tensions and warnings issued by both countries.
Newly appointed South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin
Lee has called on his country to be united in the current confrontation with the North. In a national radio address on Monday, he said as South Korea faces a national security threat, "our country cannot afford internal divisions, because what is at stake is our very lives and the survival of this nation."
The president affirmed that South Korea still wanted peaceful reunification with the North. But he also cautioned citizens not to be afraid of a military conflict: "If we are afraid of war, we won't be able to prevent it. Only if we are determined to bravely confront any risk, will we be able to ward off all dangers."
South Korea's president also emphasized that he had learned important lessons from the North Korean shelling of Yeonpyeong island, which killed four people last month. "So far, the South has been showing a lot of patience to maintain peace. But we know that war can only be prevented and peace can only be ensured if we meet the North's provocations with zero tolerance."
Smoke billows from Yeonpyeong after the North shelled the island
With this, the president repeated last week's warnings that Seoul would strike back from now on. Lee Myung-bak and the army had been attacked by critics for reacting too passively to the Yeonpyeong attack. The defense minister resigned as a consequence. In his speech, the conservative president indirectly also targeted the liberal opposition. The discussions within South Korea after the sinking of the naval ship Cheonan in March had encouraged North Korea and prepared the ground for the attack on Yeonpyeong, Lee argued. South Korean politicians, scientists and journalists had cast doubts on the results of an international investigation that had blamed a North Korean torpedo for the sinking of the Cheonan, in which 46 South Korean sailors were killed.
Pyongyang has rejected all accusations over the sinking of the Cheonan. Moreover, North Korea has justified its attack on the South Korean island as a retaliatory measure, arguing that South Korea attacked North Korean territory first by holding a naval exercise in the disputed waters surrounding Yeonpyeong island, which is very close to the North Korean mainland. North Korea does not recognize the naval border which was fixed by the United Nations after the end of the Korean War in 1953. Pyongyang calls for a border further to the South.
South Korea has vowed zero tolerance toward the North
South Korea has staged a series of military exercises since the Yeonpyeong shelling, including one with the United States. Despite issuing threats of a "sacred war", the North has not reacted with more attacks, leading many observers to believe that Pyongyang wants to avoid all-out war. Seoul has announced more drills for this week.
Author: Hans-Guenther Krauth (tb)
Editor: Sarah Berning