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PSI exercise begins in waters off Busan

A two-day multinational maritime exercise, aimed at fighting the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction, began Wednesday in waters off the southern port city of Busan, marking the first time for South Korea to host such a drill.

Fourteen countries, including the U.S., Japan, Australia, France and Canada, are taking part in the Proliferation Security Initiative exercise, codenamed “Eastern Endeavor 10.”

Seoul initially planned to host the exercise as part of its response to the March 26 sinking of the corvette Cheonan, which it holds Pyongyang responsible for. However, it said the exercise is not targeting any particular country.

“During the maritime drill, we will (practice) intercepting vessels suspected of carrying nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. But the exercise scenario does not target any specific countries, including North Korea,” said a senior official at the Ministry of National Defense on condition of anonymity.

Around 10 ships from South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, including the 9,000-ton U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Lassen and two 4,500-ton South Korean KDX-II destroyers were deployed for the drill. Australia sent P-3C maritime patrol aircraft.

Other nations such as France, Canada, Chile and Italy, which have not deployed their military vessels and aircraft, sent their representatives or observers.

As part of the drill, military officials from the participating nations and experts on relevant subjects held a closed-door seminar Wednesday in Busan to discuss their PSI decision-making policies and procedures for search operations, officials said.

Last year, following the North’s second nuclear test in May, South Korea jointed the PSI, becoming the program’s 95th member. The initiative was first started in 2003 by former U.S. President George W. Bush as a program that calls on signatories to search suspicious ships passing through their waters.

Before joining the PSI campaign as a fully operating member, the South was an observer nation for fear of provoking its communist neighbor. The North had warned Seoul against full membership as the program could target its possible attempt to export nuclear technology and materials.

A Seoul-led multinational investigation team has concluded that a North Korean midget submarine torpedoed the 1,200-ton South Korean warship in the West Sea near the maritime border, killing 46 sailors. The North has so far denied its role in the disaster.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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