US-led maritime drill starts off South Korea

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

SEOUL - A US-led multinational naval drill started off South Korea Wednesday, aiming to prevent a hypothetical transfer of weapons of mass destruction at sea, media reports said.

Operation Eastern Endeavour involved around 10 ships from the navies of the US, Australia and, for the first time, South Korea, Seoul’s Yonhap News Agency reported.

“The drill practices how to stop and search ships suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction,” an official from Seoul’s defence ministry was quoted as saying by the report.

Eleven other countries were also participating in the two-day exercise off Busan on the southern coast of Korea, the report said, with some such as France and Canada sending representatives and observers.

The drill was part of the Proliferation Security Initiative, a cooperation agreement between around 90 countries, launched by the US in 2003 to make it legally and practically easier to seize weapons of mass destruction being transferred on the high seas.

Participating officials held a seminar Wednesday to discuss the policies and stop-and-search procedures.

South Korea decided to join the initiative last year after North Korea carried out its second nuclear test explosion. North Korea called Seoul’s decision a “declaration of war”.

Tensions have been high between the Koreas since the sinking of a South Korean navy vessel in March with the loss of 46 lives. Seoul accuses North Korea of causing the incident, which Pyongyang denies.

In recent weeks, there have been some signs of thawing, with an agreement in early October to resume reunions of families divided by the peninsula’s split, and South Korea’s agreement to supply rice and building materials in aid to the flood-stricken North.

But high-level military talks, suggested by North Korea, have foundered on Pyongyang’s refusal to accept the blame for the March sinking.

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