If the South Korean military goes through with artillery drills near their sea border with North Korea, they will be met with "merciless retaliatory strikes." This according to Officer Sin Chol Ung of the North's Korean People's Security Force, who told the AP that his countrymen are prepared to "dedicate their blood to defend their inviolable territory...We are monitoring every movement by the South Korean warmongers." In November 2010, the North responded to a similar drill with an artillery attack that killed four South Korean soldiers.

A South Korean government official confirmed the drills, part of an annual winter military exercise, will last two hours and be carried out as planned, and that they are prepared "to repel any North Korean provocation."  He also said the navy will join U.S. forces later this week to conduct a number of anti-submarine drills in waters further south. (28,500 U.S. soldiers are stationed in South Korea "as a deterrence against North Korean aggression," the AP notes.) The heightened tensions between the two warring countries -- and they are still officially warring, as the Korean War ended in an armistice, not peace treaty -- comes four days before U.S. and North Korean diplomats will meet in Beijing to discuss the latter's nuclear weapons program. 

[Pictured: South Korea's K1A1 tanks cross the Nam Han River during a military exercise on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012.]