North Korean commandos are training to occupy South Korea's five northernmost islands in the West Sea in an emergency, Radio Free Asia reported Thursday. Quoting a Chinese source familiar with North Korea, the broadcaster said sharpshooters under the North's Navy Command and the General Bureau of Reconnaissance have been conducting the drills in waters off Nampo since mid-December.
The source claimed they were ordered by leader Kim Jong-il and his son and heir Jong-un.
They belong to an elite unit that invariably ranks first or second in the People's Armed Forces' combat evaluation. Troops are said to practice swimming in full combat gear for 40 minutes even in midwinter.
The source said the aim is to dampen the South Korean military's determination to firmly respond to any North Korean provocations or attacks after the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November.
If North Korean troops take civilians hostage on the five islands, it would be difficult for South Korean and U.S. forces to strike back, the source speculated.
The source claimed an operational plan has the North's Army Corps firing coastal artillery at the five islands on a moonless night and special forces landing in hovercraft and occupying the islands.
But a South Korean government official denied the report. "It's true that North Korean troops are training in waters off Nampo, but we believe that their drills are part of routine winter drills, not practicing landing on the five West Sea islands," he said.