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North Korea backs away from threats

| December 22, 2010 8:00 PM

YEONPYEONG ISLAND, South Korea (AP) - North Korea backed off threats to retaliate against South Korea for military drills and reportedly offered concessions on its nuclear program - signs it was looking to lower the temperature on the Korean peninsula after weeks of soaring tensions.

But Pyongyang has feinted toward conciliation before and failed to follow through.

The North's gestures Monday came after South Korea launched fighter jets, evacuated hundreds of residents near its tense land border with the North and sent residents of islands near disputed waters into underground bunkers in case Pyongyang followed through on its vow to attack over the drills.

"It appears that deterrence has been restored," said Daniel Pinkston, Seoul-based analyst with the International Crisis Group think tank. "The North Koreans only understand force or show of force."

North Korea has previously been accused of using a mix of aggression and conciliatory gestures to force international negotiations that usually net it much-needed aid. Real progress on efforts to rid the North of its nuclear weapons programs has been rare.

On Nov. 23, the North shelled Yeonpyeong Island, a tiny enclave of fishing communities and military bases about seven miles from North Korean shores in response to an earlier round of South Korean live-fire maneuvers. The North's artillery barrage killed two marines and two construction workers in its first attack targeting civilian areas since the 1950-53 Korean War.

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