Tuesday, November 23, 2010

S. Korea Warns of Retaliation After N. Korea Shells Island

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak vowed "enormous retaliation" if North Korea launches another attack like the hundred artillery shells that rained down on a South Korean island on Nov. 23.

"Given that North Korea maintains an offensive posture, we can expect an additional provocation," the president said. "We should keep in mind that we must retaliate with much more firepower should the North launch an attack."

The communist regime fired the shells at Yeonpyeong Island, across the disputed sea border in the western waters of the peninsula, and just 11 kilometers from the North Korean mainland. The attack killed two marines, wounding 16 other soldiers and injuring three civilians.

South Korean forces fired back about 80 150mm shells from K9 self-propelled howitzers at two coastal artillery bases in the North. North Korean casualties have not been reported.

It was one of the most serious border incidents since the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended without a peace treaty.

The South Korean military was immediately placed on its highest non-wartime alert. F-15K and KF-16 fighter jets were dispatched near the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the West Sea, while U.S and South Korean surveillance and reconnaissance activities near the land and sea borders have been boosted, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) here.

JCS Chairman Gen. Han Min-koo and U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Walter Sharp were considering declaring a "joint crisis management" state, JCS spokesman Col. Lee Bung-woo said.

The shelling came amid growing tensions over Pyongyang's apparent progress in its quest for nuclear weapons.

North Korea recently revealed a new uranium enrichment plant with 2,000 centrifuges to a U.S. scientist, who visited the North earlier this month a month after North Korean leader Kim Jong-il anointed his youngest son, Jong-un, as the heir apparent.

The attacks also come as the South Korean armed forces were conducting a large-scale nationwide exercise dubbed Hoguk, meaning "protecting country."

South Korean marines were conducting a monthly maritime live-fire exercise near the island at 2:34 p.m., when North Korean forces opened fire with 130mm howitzers and 76.2mm artillery guns, according to the JCS. The exercise was underway legally within South Korean maritime territory, said the JCS spokesman.

The South returned fire at 2:47 p.m. and subsequently raised its alert level to Jindotgae-1, the highest watchdog level in the event of low-intensity conflict.

The North resumed bombardment at 3:11 p.m., drawing fire from the South at 3:25 p.m.

The South's chief negotiator at the inter-Korean military talks sent a fax message to the North Korean counterpart, urging the North to stop firing. The exchange of gunfire stopped at 3:41.

The North is said to have deployed about 1,000 artillery pieces on islands near the NLL. Most are hidden in mountain caves and tunnels.

"North Korea's latest provocation with coastal artillery firings is an illegal act of attack planned and intended previously in violation of the U.N. Charter, Armistice Agreement, and an inter-Korean non-aggression pact," Lt. Gen. Lee Hong-ki, director of JCS' operations bureau said. "Reckless attacks on defenseless civilians are inhumane atrocities."

North Korea, however, continued threatening strikes on South Korea.

In a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency later in the day, the North's top military command said the South Korean military began the exchange of fires by shooting toward its side.

"Our revolutionary forces will continue to mount merciless military strikes without hesitation if the puppets in the South trespass even 0.0001 millimeters into our waters," the statement said.

TV footage showed columns of thick black smoke rising from homes on the island. Screams and shouts filled the air as shells rained down on the island, home to 1,700 civilians as well as South Korean Marine Corps' installations. Island residents evacuated to some 20 shelters, the JCS said.

The NLL, drawn up by the U.S.-led United Nations Command at the end of the Korean War, has been a flashpoint for inter-Korean conflicts for the past decade. Pyongyang rejects recognizing the line, demanding the line be redrawn southward.

In 1999 and 2002, patrol boats from the two Koreas clashed, leaving scores of casualties. The latest gun battle occurred in November last year when South Korean warships defeated North Koreans.

Earlier this year, the North fired hundreds of artillery shots toward the NLL, and some of them landed on the southern side of the sea border.

In March, a South Korean corvette was allegedly sunk by a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine. Pyongyang denies the allegation.

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