South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak made a surprise visit on Thursday to an island near the tense border with North Korea that was shelled by Pyongyang two years ago, a spokeswoman said.
“President Lee visited Yeonpyeong island in order to check the security status there ahead of the second anniversary of the shelling on the island,” presidential spokeswoman Lee Mi-Yon said.
South Korea said earlier on Thursday it would begin next week an annual, large-scale military exercise aimed at countering threats from North Korea at a time of heightened cross-border tensions.
The week-long Hoguk exercise beginning October 25 will involve 240,000 army, navy, air force and marine corps personnel, along with police officers, a spokesman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters.
About 500 US soldiers will also take part.
Some 28,500 US personnel are stationed in the South – a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war that ended with a ceasefire but not a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas still technically at war.
“The exercise will feature drills against infiltration, regional provocations or an all-out war by North Korea,” a defence ministry spokesman told reporters.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been raised in the past month by a series of maritime border confrontations, defections and a new US-South Korean deal to nearly triple the range of the South’s missile systems.
There are also widespread concerns in the South that Pyongyang might do something provocative in the run up to South Korea’s presidential election in December.
Cross-border ties have been generally icy since Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing one of its warships in March 2010 with the loss of 46 lives.
The North denied involvement but went on to shell a border island that left four South Koreans dead in November of the same year.