Image: South Korean residents gather in a bomb shelter
Yonhap via AFP - Getty Images
South Korean residents gather in a bomb shelter on the border island of Baengnyeong Monday as a live-fire exercise began near the country's disputed sea border with North Korea.
msnbc.com news services
updated 2/20/2012 2:40:03 AM ET 2012-02-20T07:40:03

South Korea on Monday conducted live-fire military drills from five islands near its disputed sea boundary with North Korea, despite Pyongyang's threat to attack.

South Korea reported no immediate action by North Korea following the drills, which ended after about two hours. The drills took place in an area of the Yellow Sea that was the target of a North Korean artillery attack in 2010 that killed four South Koreans and raised fears of a wider conflict.

The heightened tension comes two months after the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. His young son Kim Jong Un has taken the helm of the nation of 24 million.

Underground shelters
South Korean military officials said they were ready to repel any attack. Residents on the front-line islands were asked to go to underground shelters before the drills started, according to South Korea's Defense Ministry and Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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North Korea's military maintained increased vigilance during the South Korean drills, though it hasn't done anything suspicious, a South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff officer said on condition of anonymity, citing department rules. He refused to provide further details because he said they involve confidential military intelligence on North Korea.

Before the drills began, North Korea said it would launch a "thousands-fold more severe" punishment than the 2010 shelling if South Korea conducted the drills.

'Total war'
North Korea is fully prepared for a "total war," and the drills will lead to a "complete collapse" of ties between the Koreas, the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried Monday by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Seoul is closely monitoring North Korea's reaction. The Korean peninsula has been technically at war for about 60 years.

Officials from North Korea and the United States are to meet this week in Beijing for talks on the country's nuclear weapons program. The discussions will be the first such bilateral contact since Kim Jong Il's Dec. 17 death.

Ties between the Koreas plummeted following the 2010 shelling of front-line Yeonpyeong Island and a deadly warship sinking blamed on Pyongyang. North Korea has flatly denied its involvement in the sinking, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.

US to hold nuke talks with N. Korea

South Korean troops on the five islands fired artillery into waters southward, away from nearby North Korea, a Defense Ministry official said on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.

Residents on the islands, many of them elderly, filed into underground bomb shelters and huddled around portable heaters during the drills.

Slideshow: Journey into North Korea (on this page)

More than 1,000 people evacuated to shelters, but few came to the mainland, despite the North Korean threat, according to Onjin County, which governs the islands. Ferry services linking the islands and Incheon port on the mainland operated normally, county officials said. Officials say requests to evacuate are made each time South Korea conducts drills.

Soon after Seoul told Pyongyang of its live-fire training plans Sunday, North Korea's military called the drills a "premeditated military provocation" and warned it would retaliate for an attack on its territory.

A North Korean officer warned in an interview Sunday with The Associated Press in Pyongyang that North Koreans were always ready to "dedicate their blood to defend their inviolable territory."

No peace treaty
The maritime line separating the countries was drawn by the U.S.-led U.N. Command without Pyongyang's consent at the close of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with a truce, not a peace treaty. North Korea routinely argues that the line should run farther south.

Slideshow: Daily life in North Korea (on this page)

On Yeonpyeong Island, which is just seven miles from North Korean shores, about 490 people evacuated to shelters, while the rest of the 600 to 700 residents stayed at home or went to work as usual, an island official said in a phone interview, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk to reporters.

South Korea also plans joint anti-submarine drills with the United States this week, but the training site is farther south from the disputed sea boundary, South Korean military officials said. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as what U.S. and South Korean officials call deterrence against North Korean aggression.

Report: Kim Jong Il's eldest son falls on hard times

North Korea says joint U.S.-South Korea drills are a rehearsal for a northward invasion.

Meanwhile, North Korea's state media said Monday its ruling Workers' Party will hold a key conference in April, the first since 2010, in which it is likely to make official the succession of power to its third generation of leadership.

The conference, to be held in mid-April, will come around the time of the centenary of the state founder Kim II Sung's birth, which the North has planned to mark the launch of a new era as a "strong and prosperous nation."

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"The Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee decides to convene the WPK Conference in mid-April Juche 101 (2012) to glorify the sacred revolutionary life and feats of Kim Jong Il for all ages and accomplish the Juche cause, the Songun revolutionary cause, rallied close around Kim Jong Un," KCNA reported.

Juche is the North's homegrown state ideology mixing Marxism and extreme nationalism, preached by the state founder Kim Il Sung. Songun is his son's own ruling doctrine that translates to "military first."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: Kim Jong Il through the years

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  1. Happy family

    Kim Jong Il as a child with his father Kim Il Sung and first wife Kim Jong Suk. (Noboru Hashimoto / Corbis Sygma) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Young student

    A1963 photo from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency, Kim Jong Il when he was a student of Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. With his friends

    Kim Jong Il, second person from right, takes part of a souvenir picture with his friends in this undated photo. (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Official business

    In his young days working at the Central Committee of WPK (Worker's Party of Korea). (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Training exercise

    Kim Jong Il leads the firearms training of the February 2nd National Sport Defense team members while he was working at the Central Committee of WPK (Worker's Party of Korea). (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Meeting with farmers

    Kim Jong Il talks with farmers when he was in the Central Committee, May 21, 1971. (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Test drive

    Kim Jong Il takes a test drive of a play equipment combat plane in Taesong amusement park, Pyongyang in North Korea,Oct. 2, 1977. (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Filmmaking

    Kim Jong Il gives advice at the shooting of "An Jung Geun Avenges Hirobumi Ito," a narrative film. (Korean Central News Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Father and son

    Kim Jong Il was anointed successor to his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1980. Known as the "Great Leader," Kim Il Sung and his son are shown attending a Korean Worker's Party convention in October of that year. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Family portrait

    Kim Jong Il, bottom left, poses memebers of his family in this 1981 photo in Pyongyang, North Korea. Sitting at right is his son, Jong-Nam, Kim's sister-in-law Sung Hye-Rang stands at top left with her daughter Lee Nam-Ok, center and son Lee Il-Nam, top right. While virtually nothing is known about the leader's personal life, an attempt by his first-born son Kim Jong Nam, bottom right, to enter Japan on a false passport in May, 2001, briefly shone a light onto his family's private dealings. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Applause please

    Kim Jong Il meets with Korean People's Army personnel in this Sept., 1988, photo. North Korea is believed to be the most heavily militarized country in the world on a per capita basis. (AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Like father, like son

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Il stands next to his father, Kim Il Sung, inspecting a football field in Pyongyang. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Silent famine

    Residents of Taziri, North Korea, wait for Red Cross food supplies in December 1995, not long after the death of Kim Il Sung left Kim Jong Il in control of the country. At the time, around 130,000 North Koreans were reportedly on the brink of famine and 500,000 were homeless. (Calvi Parisetti / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Kim looking at things

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Il inspects cucumbers harvested inside the 770th army base near Nyon Won power plant in Pyonan-Namdo. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Frenemies?

    South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, right, hugs North Korean leader Kim Jong Il at the end of their summit meeting at the airport in Pyongyang, North Korea. The two leaders held historic talks for three days in June 2000. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A visitor from Russia

    Kim Jong Il walks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, as he arrived in Pyongyang in July 2000 for talks on halting North Korea's missile-development program. (Itar-tass / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Toasting the U.S.

    Kim Jong Il toasts U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at a dinner in Pyongyang in October 2000. The visit was part of an coordinated effort by Washington and its allies South Korea and Japan to end the country's isolation. (Chien-min Chung / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A giant leader

    A portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il displayed at an entrance of the foreign ministry in Pyongyang August 2002. (Shingo Ito / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Welcoming Japan

    Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, left, shakes hands with Kim Jong Il after signing a joint statement at the end of a one-day summit in Pyongyang on Sept. 17, 2002. North Korea admitted to kidnapping Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s and using them to train spies. (AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Crowds in the square

    In January 2003, more than one million people gathered on Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang to hear political leaders hail North Korea's dramatic decision to withdraw from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Tearful goodbyes

    Emotional South Koreans bid farewell to their North Korean families following a brief reunion in July 2004. The families were separated by the border that was imposed after fighting ended in 1953. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. X marks the spot

    A South Korean protester holds a picture of Kim Jong Il marked with a cross during a rally in Seoul on July 7, 2006. Demonstrators denounced Pyongyang's test-firing of seven missiles. (Lee Jin-man / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Wining and dining

    South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun joins Kim Jong Il at a farewell lunch in Pyongyang on Oct. 4, 2007, after the two sides signed a pledge to seek a peace treaty to replace the 54-year-old cease-fire that ended the Korean War. With no treaty in place, the two countries technically are still at war. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Military matters

    Kim Jong Il visits a military unit in this picture released by North Korea's official news agency on Aug. 11, 2008. It was Kim's last public appearance before intelligence officials suggested he had fallen gravely ill. (KCNA / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. In the public eye again

    In this image taken from North Korea's KRT state television, Kim Jong II attends the first session of the Supreme People's Assembly on April 9, 2009, in Pyongyang. It was his first major public appearance since reportedly suffering a stroke in August 2008. (APTN) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Paying his respects

    A gaunt-looking Kim Jong Il, sitting center in the front row, is surrounded by high-ranking officials during a ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of his father's death on July 8, 2009. Kim Il Sung, who founded North Korea, remains known as the country's"eternal president." (KCNA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Visit from Clinton

    Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, right, meets with Kim Jong Il, left front, in Pyongyang on Aug. 4, 2009. North Korea pardoned and released two detained U.S. journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, after the meeting. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Calling on a cotton farm

    Kim Jong Il inspects a cotton plant farm of the Korean People's Army's 1596 unit on Nov. 29, 2009. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Meet-and-greet

    Kim Jong Il waves as people including soldiers applaud during a visit to the construction site of the Kumyagang Army-People Power Station in South Hamgyong Province in an undated picture released by North Korea's Central News Agency in August, 2010. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. China visit

    Chinese President Hu Jintao, right, meets with Kim Jong Il in Changchun, in northeast China's Jilin province, on Aug. 27, 2010. (Ju Peng / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Likely heir

    North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il, seated at center in sunglasses, and his youngest son Kim Jong Un, seated at left, pose for a photo with the newly elected members of the central leadership body of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) and the participants in the WPK Conference, at the plaza of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang in this picture released by the North's KCNA news agency on Sept. 30, 2010. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il anointed his youngest son as successor this week, promoting him to senior political and military positions. (KCNA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (2nd L) and his youngest son Kim Jong Un (3rd R from Kim Jong-il) visit the cemetery for Chinese soldiers who died during the 1950-53 Korean War in Hoechang County, North Korea, Oct. 26, 2010, in this picture released by North Korea's official KCNA news agency. (KCNA / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. North Korea leader Kim Jong Il, right, and his son Kim Jong Un attend a massive military parade to mark the 65th anniversary of the communist nation's ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang, North Korea on Oct. 10, 2010. Kim Jong Il, North Korea's mercurial and enigmatic leader whose iron rule and nuclear ambitions dominated world security fears for more than a decade, has died. He was 69. (Vincent Yu / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Pass in review

    Kim Jong Il attends a military parade to celebrate the 63rd founding anniversary of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in Pyongyang on September 9, 2011. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A tearful announcer dressed in black announces the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong il on North Korean State Television on Dec. 19, 2011. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died on a train trip, state television reported on Monday, sparking immediate concern over who is in control of the reclusive state and its nuclear program. The announcer said the 69-year old had died on Saturday of physical and mental over-work on his way to give "field guidance". (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. The body of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is seen inside a glass coffin as people pay their respects, Pyongyang, North Korea, on Dec. 20, 2011. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. ARCHIVES : KIM IL SUNG AND KIM JONG IL
    Noboru Hashimoto / Corbis Sygma
    Above: Slideshow (36) The life of Kim Jong ll - Kim Jong Il through the years
  2. Image:
    KCNA via AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (42) The life of Kim Jong ll - World reacts
  3. Image:
    David Guttenfelder / AP
    Slideshow (53) Journey into North Korea
  4. Elizabeth Dalziel / AP
    Slideshow (7) Daily life in North Korea

Video: How will Kim Jong Un help change North Korea?

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