By Park Jung-eon, Senior Staff Writer
North Korea fired some 100 artillery rounds toward South Korean waters and an island near the tense West Sea on Tuesday, killing two marines and leaving at least 15 others wounded, five of them critically, South Korea’s military reported.
The artillery shells from North Korea’s artillery troops at the west coast stronghold near the border fell at 2:34 p.m. in South Korea’s waters off the island of Yeonpyeong, some of them landing directly on the island, said Col. Lee Bung-woo, spokesman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). South Korea’s military responded by firing 80 rounds of K-9 artillery and deployed F-15K fighter jets to the island, while putting the military on its highest peacetime alert. JCS officials said South Korea’s military sent a telephone message to North Korea urging them to stop the shelling. This marked the first artillery battle exchanging firing since 1970.
JCS Chairman Han Min-koo and Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of some 28,500 U.S. troops in the South, held telephone talks and agreed to consider declaring a “joint crisis management,” the JCS spokesman said.
According to the Cheong Wa Dae (the presidential office in South Korea or Blue House), President Lee Myung-bak told his aides to respond strictly to the attack but carefully manage the situation to prevent the escalation of the clash before presiding over an emergency meeting of security-related ministers at an underground bunker of the presidential office.
North Korea fired the artillery during South Korea’s military drill called the Hoguk Exercise on Nov. 22-30 that involves 70,000 South Korean military troops, 50 warships, 90 helicopters and 500 planes. The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) of U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Seventh Air Force will also participate in the exercise.
North Korea has condemned the annual exercise and warned they would fire shots, while South Korea has called it an exercise to enhance its military command capabilities. Observers said North Korea has strongly opposed to this exercise, an upgraded version of Team Spirit, saying that the large scale joint military exercise, including warships, air force and landing training, is aimed at attack on North Korea.
North Korea’s top military command threatened to continue “merciless” strikes on South Korea in a statement by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, while accusing South Korea’s military of initiating the exchange by shooting toward its side.
Two marines were killed and five soldiers were seriously wounded, while ten soldiers and civilians were reportedly wounded by the attack. Yeonpyeong Island was engulfed in thick smoke when fire spread on a mountain and homes and forest were ablaze in fire. Some 1,600 residents at Yeonpyeong Island were all evacuated to shelters and suffered a blackout from the power outage.
The western sea near the border has been the scene of bloody gun battles between the navies of North Korea and South Korea that took place in 1999, 2002 and in November of last year.
Please direct questions or comments to [firstname.lastname@example.org]