South Korea’s President vowed a relentless retaliation against North Korea if provoked again, saying on Monday he is not afraid of a war with the North.

The two Koreas have ramped up their 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.

On Monday, 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 realization that war can be prevented and peace assured only when such provocations are met with a strong response,” Mr. Lee said. “Fear of war is never helpful in preventing war.”

He 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 Dec. 20, in a show of force against the North. The South was to begin routine naval firing exercises starting Monday but not on Yeonpyeong and other border islands, according to the Defence Ministry.

Keywords: Korean row

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