South Korea’s new defence minister has taken office and pledged a strong military response which would force rival North Korea to surrender if it attacks the South again.
Kim Kwan-jin’s predecessor resigned amid criticism that the government responded weakly to a North Korean artillery barrage on a South Korean island near their disputed western sea border on November 23 which killed two South Korean marines and two civilians.
During a confirmation hearing, Mr Kim warned that South Korea would launch air strikes on the communist North if it staged another attack.
“If North Korea carries out a military provocation on our territory and people again, we must retaliate immediately and strongly until they completely surrender,” he said in a speech to senior military officials.
Mr Kim also called for military readiness, saying North Korea would plot new provocations. He later visited the island targeted by the North Korean attack. He said the military would quickly hold firing drills if the weather permits, according to the Yonhap news agency.
Skirmishes occur periodically along the two Koreas’ disputed maritime border, but the latest assault was the first since the 1950-53 Korean War to target a civilian area.
The attack came eight months after an alleged North Korean torpedo strike on a South Korean warship killed 46 sailors. North Korea has denied involvement.
Critics have questioned President Lee Myung-bak’s willingness to stand up militarily to the North, despite his tough stance of refusing to coddle the reclusive regime since taking office nearly three years ago.
Mr Lee must balance calls for a harsh response with the knowledge that Seoul – a city of more than 10 million people – is only 30 miles (50km) from the heavily militarised border and within easy range of North Korean artillery.
On Friday, the US Senate approved a resolution condemning the North Korean attack and urging the North to halt all nuclear activities and refrain from any further actions which may destabilise the Korean peninsula.