North Korea Artillery Fire hits South Korea’s Island of Yeonpyeong, and the Politics Behind the Unexpected Attack

Right now [ 09:10 GMT ] I am getting tweets that are expressing shock. I think we can all say that this was unexpected. Even though it was reported last month [ 29th October, just before the G20 submit in Seoul] that gun shots were exchanged across the Korean border; it was played down by the media. From that to an artillery shell is a massive jump. I received a tweet a few seconds ago:

Things now are getting stabilized but we’re still in shock. #koreapeace

Sincere wishes go out to the victims.

UPDATE: News Tweet from approx. 10:25 GMT

LiveNewsWire ALERT: North Korea is reportedly vowing additional “merciless” attacks against South Korea soon.

* * * * *

North Korea artillery fire hits South Korea island
Date: 23rd November 2010
Source: Channel 4

A South Korean soldier is killed and others are seriously injured after North Korea fires dozens of artillery shells across its maritime border setting buildings ablaze and prompting a return of fire.

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1

Residents have been evacuated after North Korea fired shells at the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, off the west coast of the peninsula near a disputed maritime border, according to reports.

One South Korean marine has been killed and three soldiers remain seriously injured in the biggest attack in years as the country was put on its highest non-wartime alert. A number of the artillery shells landed on a military base on the island.

The island is about 1.8 miles south of the sea border and 75 miles west of the South Korean capital Seoul.

YTN television quoted a witness as saying 60 to 70 houses were on fire after the shelling and TV footage showed plumes of smoke coming from the island. It said a South Korean fighter jet had been deployed to the west coast after the shelling.

“Houses and mountains are on fire and people are evacuating. You can’t see very well because of plumes of smoke,” a witness on the island told YTN.

“People are frightened to death and shelling continues as we speak,” the witness said.

The exchange, which lasted for about an hour and then stopped abruptly, was the most serious between the two Koreas in years.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said he was trying to prevent the exchange of artillery fire between North and South Korea from escalating into a greater conflict, Yonhap news reported.

Seoul had warned of a stronger response if the North continued with provocations, accoding to local news sources.

* * * * *

Artillery firing on Korea border
South Korea returns fire after North Korea fired artillery shells onto South Korean island near disputed western border.
Date: 23rd Novemeber 2010 [ 08:55 am GMT ]
Source: Al Jazeera English

North Korea has fired dozens of artillery shells onto a South Korean island, killing at least one person and triggering an exchange of fire as southern armed forces went on their highest state of alert.

In what appeared to be one of the most serious border incidents since the 1950-53 war, South Korea’s government convened in an underground war room during the incident on Tuesday.

South Korea said it has scrambled F-16 fighter jets to assess the situation on Yeonpyeong island.

The firing came after North Korea’s disclosure of an apparently operational uranium enrichment programme – a potential way of building a nuclear bomb – which is causing serious alarm for the United States and its allies.

Some 50 North Korean shells landed on the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong near the tense Yellow Sea border, damaging dozens of houses and sending plumes of thick smoke into the air, YTN television reported.

Naval exercise

Steve Chao, Al Jazeera’s Seoul-based correspondent, said that the island is the base of South Korea’s second fleet that has been attacked by North Korea in the past.

“There was a joint South Korea-US naval exercise in the area yesterday,” our correspondent said.

One South Korean Marine, who was part of a contingent based permanently on Yeonpyeong Island, was killed, the military said.

The military said 13 Marines were injured and YTN said two civilians were also hurt.

“A North Korean artillery unit staged an illegal firing provocation at 2:34 pm (0534 GMT) and South Korean troops fired back immediately in self-defence,” a ministry spokesman said.

“A Class-A military alert issued for battle situations has been imposed immediately,” the spokesman said.

Lee Jong-Sik, an island resident, told YTN: “At least 10 houses are burning. I can’t see clearly for the smoke. The hillsides are also on fire. We were told by loudspeakers to flee our homes.”

Yeonpyeong lies just south of the border declared by United Nations forces after the inconclusive war six decades ago, but north of the sea border declared by Pyongyang.

The Yellow Sea border was the scene of deadly naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and last November.

Tensions have been acute since the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, which Seoul says was the result of a North Korean torpedo attack. Pyongyang has angrily rejected the charge.

In late October, North and South Korean troops exchanged fire across their Cold War border, coinciding with a state of high alert for the South’s military in the buildup to the G20 summit of world leaders in Seoul earlier this month.

High tension

Lee Myung-Bak, the South Korean president, convened an emergency security meeting in response to the latest incident, a presidential spokesman said.

“He is now in an underground war room to discuss possible responses with ministers of related agencies and national security advisers.”

Lee urged the officials to “handle it (the situation) well to prevent further escalation”, the spokesman said.

The firing comes after Kim Jong-Un, the little-known youngest son of Kim Jong-Il, was officially recognised as number two in North Korea’s political system, clouding outsiders’ view of its military and nuclear intentions.

The new crisis erupted as a US special envoy headed to China on Tuesday to seek its help in curbing North Korea’s new nuclear project, revealed to US experts who described a sophisticated programme to enrich uranium.

Stephen Bosworth has also visited South Korea and Japan this week to discuss the disclosure, which US officials say would allow the isolated North to build new atomic bombs.

Bosworth, speaking in Tokyo, ruled out a resumption of stalled six-nation talks – aimed at disarming the North of nuclear weaponry in return for aid and other concessions – while work continues on the enrichment programme.

China chairs the talks and is also the North’s sole major ally and economic prop. It has come under pressure to play a leading role in resolving the latest nuclear dispute.

Concern in China

China appealed for the six-party talks to resume after the new revelations, and expressed concern over Tuesday’s cross-border firing.

“We have taken note of the relevant report and we express concern over the situation,” Hong Lei, a foreign ministry spokesman, said.

“We hope the relevant parties do more to contribute to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula,” he said. Russia also warned against an escalation of tensions on the peninsula.

* * * * *

A little snippet of the timeline between the North and South [ via Al Jazeera English ]

November 10, 2009: Navies of the two sides exchange fire near the Yellow Sea border. Seoul officials say a North Korean patrol boat retreated in flames but its casualties are unknown. No South Koreans are hurt.
  
March 26, 2010: An unexplained explosion hits the Cheonan, a 1,200-tonne South Korean corvette, near the disputed border and the  warship breaks in two. A total of 58 sailors are rescued but 46 die.
  
May 20, 2010: A report by a multinational investigation team says the Cheonan was sunk by a torpedo launched from a North Korean  submarine.
  
May 24, 2010: South Korea suspends trade with the North and bans its ships from Seoul’s waters. The White House says the sanctions  are “entirely appropriate” as President Barack Obama orders the US military to work closely with South Korea.
  
Oct 29, 2010: North and South Korean troops exchange fire across their border, cranking up tensions before the G20 summit of world leaders in Seoul.

Nov 23, 2010: North Korea fires artillery shells onto a South Korean border island, prompting an exchange of fire with southern  troops along with casualties and property damage, officials and reports said.

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