Tension builds as arms drill begins

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South Korean marines patrol on Yeonpyeong island amid growing tensions. (AP)

South Korea has begun live-fire drills from a frontline island bombed last month by North Korea, in defiance of the North’s threats to attack again.

The Defence Ministry said the drills started on Yeonpyeong Island, and a cameraman heard the booms of artillery explosions.

South Korea conducted the one-day live-fire drills from the tiny enclave of fishing communities and military bases about seven miles from North Korean shores.

The island was shelled by the North after similar drills last month. Two marines and two civilians were killed.

The North considers the waters around Yeonpyeong its own territory and has threatened to retaliate for any new drills.

Residents, local officials and journalists on Yeonpyeong and four other islands were ordered to evacuate to underground bomb shelters because of possible attacks by North Korea, Ongjin County government spokesman Won Ji-young said.

The developments came after UN diplomats meeting in New York failed to find any solution to ease fears of a new war on the Korean peninsula.

South Korea later said it had launched fighter jets to deter any North Korean attacks after the artillery drills started.

A Defence Ministry official said South Korean fighters were flying a mission against possible North Korean aggression, and will be flying over South Korea during the drills.

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