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South Korean marines patrol Yeonpyeong island, which was shelled by the North last month

Explosions have been heard in North Korea, which appear to be part of a live-fire drill, South Korea says.

One or two shells had been fired but had not crossed the border into the South, said a government spokesmen in the South Korean capital, Seoul.

It follows an artillery assault by the North on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong last month, which killed two civilians and two marines.

South Korea has promised a stronger response to any attacks from the North.

The latest shelling “appears to be a part of regular exercises”, an official told the South Korean news agency, Yonhap.

“At least one or two explosions were heard from the North's mainland,” a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff told AFP. “We assume there might be some military drill underway there.”

The top American military commander, Admiral Mike Mullen, is meeting South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Han Min-koo in Seoul to discuss how to respond to any further North Korean attacks.

The talks represent another show of American solidarity with South Korea in the wake of last month's attacks, says the BBC's Lucy Williamson in Seoul.

The talks also aim to address tough issues such as how to strengthen South Korea's defences, and how to respond in the event of another attack, adds our correspondent.

China's role
South Korea's defence minister, Kim Kwan-jin, has already said his country would respond with airstrikes in the event of any future attack by the North.

He has also indicated he would like to hand more power to commanders on the ground.

The government in Seoul is being propelled into a tougher position on defence by public opinion, says our correspondent, as many South Koreans are blaming their leaders for not responding strongly or quickly enough to November's aggression.

North Korea: Timeline 2010
26 March: South Korean warship, Cheonan, sinks, killing 46 sailors

20 May: Panel says a North Korean torpedo sank the ship; Pyongyang denies involvement

July-September: South Korea and US hold military exercises; US places more sanctions on Pyongyang

29 September: North holds rare party congress seen as part of father-to-son succession move

29 October: Troops from North and South Korea exchange fire across the land border

12 November: North Korea shows US scientist new – undeclared – uranium enrichment facility

23 November: North shells island of Yeonpyeong, killing at least four South Koreans

27 Nov-1 Dec: South Korea and US hold joint military drills

6-12 Dec: South Korea stages live-fire military exercises

The South is also conducting its own live-fire drills around its coastline this week.

Further diplomacy is planned next week, when US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg is due to lead a delegation to Beijing for talks on North Korea.

“China has a critical role to play,” said Mr Steinberg.

“We believe it is in the interest of both the United States and China… to work together to achieve solutions to the world's most vexing problems.

“We welcome the rise of a successful, strong and prosperous China that plays a greater role in global affairs.”

He will be accompanied by three top Washington officials on Asia: Jeffrey Bader from the National Security Council, the top diplomat for East Asia and the Pacific Kurt Campbell, and the US envoy for six-party talks about the North's nuclear programmes, Sung Kim.

“They will meet senior officials to continue consultations with the Chinese on regional security issues, including recent developments on the Korean peninsula,” said a state department statement.

China is under pressure to exert whatever influence it has over North Korea.

Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held talks with the Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers which ended with a call to North Korea to stop its “provocative” acts.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson may travel to North Korea next week to speak with government officials about the country's nuclear programme, according to news reports from Washington.