Asia-Pacific

North Korea 'likely to attack again'

South Korean chief of general staff patrols with troops along Demilitarised Zone
Image caption The South does not want to reward the North's alleged bad behaviour

South Korea's intelligence chief is reported to have said that North Korea is very likely to attack again, a week after an artillery strike on a South Korean island.

The revelation came hours after officials said Seoul was planning more military exercises with the US.

On 23 November North Korea shelled the island of Yeonpyeong, killing at least four South Koreans.

The disputed border area has been the scene of numerous clashes in the past.

Won Sei-hoon, director of South Korea's National Intelligence Service, told a parliamentary committee behind closed doors that the recent attacks came amid "internal complaints" about Pyongyang's third generation succession and worsening economic situation, according to a ruling party official.

"There is a high possibility that the North will make another attack," South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted him as saying, adding that the government was trying to burnish the credentials of the designated leader who was still very young and untested, and also win new concessions from the international community.

South Korea is building up defences on Yeonpyeong island, but some senior officials have told the BBC they hope Mr Won is wrong and the worst of the current crisis is over.

"There will be ongoing measures as you said to beef up our forces including the stationing of new weapons, upgrading our marines on Yeonpyeong island but I think on this particular crisis we are reaching the apex and we will see a gradual de-escalation," said Chung Min Lee, ambassador for international security affairs.

The BBC's Chris Hogg in Seoul says the South Koreans are anxious to avoid the impression that bad behaviour by the North will be rewarded with talks or offers of aid.

Naval exercises

A South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff officer said that Seoul and Washington were planning new military drills off South Korea's west coast.

The officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said talks were focused on whether these would take place this month or next.

Separately, South Korea is planning what it calls routine week-long naval live-fire exercises from 29 sites around the country.

These are due to start next week and continue for several weeks.

China, however, has expressed its anger at the joint US-South Korean military exercises - which were planned before North Korea's shelling of Yeonpyong island last week.

Beijing has also been pressing for a resumption of the six-nation talks on ending North Korea's nuclear programme.

The US has said these talks cannot resume until North Korea apologises for its torpedoing of a South Korean warship in March, and stops further nuclear enrichment plants from operating.

The six-party talks, involving the two Koreas, the US, China, Japan and Russia, have been stalled since April 2009.

Analysts say diplomacy has been further complicated by the recent release of diplomatic cables by the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks.