Korean conflict raises tensions
North Korea shelled a South Korean island on the North-South Korean border on Nov. 23, 2010 unprovoked. The North and South Korean conflict poses a threat for the United States. China states that it has no need to intervene in the conflict that has left two dead, and Korea experts state that the Obama administration must respond strongly to the conflict.
United States experts, however, state that if North Korea continues bombings on Yeonpyeong, this could lead to major hostilities.
The U.S. government has condemned North Korea for dismissing dozens of artillery shells on a South Korean island, the largest bombardment on the island since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
North Korea bombarded a South Korean island near their disputed western border Tuesday, setting buildings ablaze and killing at least two marines after warning the South to halt military drills in the area, South Korean officials said.
South Korea said it returned fire and scrambled fighter jets in response, and said the “inhumane” attack on civilian areas violated the 1953 armistice halting the Korean War. The two sides technically remain at war because a peace treaty was never negotiated.
The skirmish came amid high tension over North Korea’s claim that it has a new uranium enrichment facility and just six weeks after North Korean leader Kim Jong Il unveiled his youngest son Kim Jong Un as his heir apparent.
The North’s artillery struck the small South Korean-held island of Yeonpyeong, which houses military installations and a small civilian population and which has been the focus of two previous deadly battles between the Koreas.
One South Korean marine was killed, three were seriously wounded and 10 slightly wounded, a Joint Chiefs of Staff official said. Island residents were escaping to about 20 shelters in the island while sporadic shelling continued, the military official said.
North Korea’s supreme military command threatened to continue military strikes against South Korea if it violated their disputed sea border “even 0.001 millimeter,” according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
The firing came amid South Korean military drills in the area. North Korea’s military had sent a message to South Korea’s armed forces early Tuesday to demand that the drills stop, but the South continued them, another military official said.
During the drills, South Korean marines on the island shot artillery toward southern waters, away from North Korea, the official said.
South Korean military official Lee Hong-ki said the North’s premeditated bombardments struck civilian areas and were “inhumane atrocities.”
There are about 30 small islands around the Yeonpyeong, and tension runs high in the area because of its proximity to North Korea. Yeonpyeong is known for its crab fishing.
After the North’s barrages, South Korea responded by firing K-9 155mm self-propelled howitzers, military officials said, but declined to say whether North Korean territory was hit.
YTN TV said several houses on Yeonpyeong were on fire and that shells were still falling on the island, which is about 75 miles west of the coast.
The station broadcast pictures of thick columns of black smoke rising from the island, which has a population of 1,200 to 1,300. Screams and chaotic shouts could be heard on the video.
Lee Chun-ok, a 54-year-old island resident, said she was watching TV when she heard sounds of artillery and a wall and door in her home suddenly collapsed.
Relations between the divided Koreas sank to their lowest point in years after the deadly sinking in March of a South Korean warship near the tense Korean sea border, which killed 46 sailors. Seoul blamed a North Korean torpedo, while North Korean officials in Pyongyang have denied any responsibility.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak ordered officials to “sternly respond” to North Korea’s action but also called on officials to make sure that the “situation would not escalate,” according to a presidential official. He asked not to be identified, citing the issue’s sensitivity.
Myung-bak was holding a security meeting in a presidential situation room, the official said.
China, which is the North’s economic and political benefactor while maintaining robust commercial ties with the South, called for calm.