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S Korea: We're not afraid of war

South Korea's president has vowed relentless retaliation against North Korea if provoked again, saying he was not afraid of a war with the communist state.

The two Koreas have ramped up the rhetoric since North Korea shelled front-line Yeonpyeong Island near the tense western sea border last month, killing four South Koreans. Both sides accuse each other of provoking first.

President Lee Myung-bak used much of his regular address to vow to get tougher with any new provocation by North Korea.

"We have now been awakened to the realisation that war can be prevented and peace assured only when such provocations are met with a strong response," he said. "Fear of war is never helpful in preventing war."

Mr Lee said South Korea's military "must respond relentlessly when they come under attack".

South Korea has staged a series of military drills - including one on Yeonpyeong Island on December 20 - in a show of force against the North. The South was to begin routine naval firing exercises from today, but not on Yeonpyeong and other border islands, according to the Defence Ministry.

North Korea for its part has also kept up rhetoric around last Friday's 19th anniversary of leader Kim Jong Il's appointment as the North's supreme military commander. Kim's military chief threatened last week to launch a "sacred" nuclear war against the South.

On Friday North Korean soldiers appeared on a state TV programme and bragged of participating in the artillery barrage on Yeonpyeong - the country's first attacks on a civilian area since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The two Koreas are still technically at war because their 1950s conflict ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. In recent years, several bloody naval skirmishes occurred near their disputed western sea border - drawn by the United Nations at the close of the Korean War.

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