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Reflecting rising tensions over North Korea's nuclear program, South Korea on Monday called up 6.6 million reservists for one of its biggest civil defense drills in years.

The exercise, to be held Wednesday, will involve all military and civil defense corps members, whose job is to organize evacuations and provide first aid for air raid victims.Seoul has staged monthly civil defense drills, but because of military tensions with North Korea, this month's is being expanded nationwide and will include more personnel and equipment.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter arrived in Seoul on Monday to try to help ease tensions that have arisen from growing suspicions that North Korea is building nuclear weapons.

The agenda on Carter's private visit includes talks with President Kim Young-sam and other top South Korean officials.

Carter plans to visit the North for four days starting Wednesday. The South has said the visit could weaken international pressure for U.N. sanctions against the North and offer it a propaganda bonus.

During the 20-minute drill, streets are usually cleared and people rush to shelters. Large-scale evacuation drills are conducted at selected locations.

South Korea has been stepping up war preparations as the United States and other nations move to seek punitive U.N. sanctions against the North over its refusal for 15 months to allow full inspections of its nuclear facilities.

North Korea, which denies it is working on nuclear weapons, has said sanctions would provoke war.

So far, China, North Korea's last major ally, and one of five U.N. Security Council members with veto power, has refused to back any punitive steps.

Meanwhile in Washington, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Gallucci said any step by North Korea to exclude international inspectors from a nuclear facility and extract weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel rods "would be a very dangerous new development."