South Korea and the US will stage a joint military exercise next month near the disputed sea border with North Korea as Pyongyang moves to enhance its combat readiness.
The two countries are expected to conduct their large-scale military drill in mid-May on the Seoul-controlled island of Baengnyeong, which is 10 miles from North Korea, in response to Pyongyang's construction of a hovercraft base, AFP reported on Sunday.
The hovercraft base at Goampo on the North's southwestern coast is expected to be completed in June. An unidentified military source told Chosun daily this week that North Korea has domestically developed the hovercraft technology.
According to the source, it would take only 30-40 minutes for a North Korean hovercraft with about 40 troops on board to reach the Baengnyeong Island, which is some 80 kilometers (31.25 miles) north of the island.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headed to South Korea for talks with the country's President Lee Myung-Bak.
The latest development comes as outburst of animosity between Pyongyang and Seoul continue to stain relations between the two neighboring countries, especially after South Korea held the North responsible for torpedoing one of its warship near Baengnyeong Island in March last year.
Last November, Seoul and Pyongyang exchanged artillery fire in the Yellow Sea border island of Yeonpyeong. Each side blamed the other for opening fire first.
South Korea says it returned fire after North Korean forces shelled one of its islands, but the North says the South fired first. Two South Korean troops and two civilians lost their lives in the clashes, according to AFP.
In recent months, the US and South Korea have conducted several massive joint sea and air drills in waters east of the Korean Peninsula.