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Posts Tagged ‘Yeonpyeong’

Defiant North Korea fires artillery warning shots

Posted by Admin on November 27, 2010

YEONPYEONG ISLAND, South Korea – A defiant flash of North Korean artillery within sight of the island that it attacked this week sent a warning signal to Seoul and Washington: The North is not backing down.

The apparent military drill Friday came as the top U.S. commander in South Korea toured Yeonpyeong island to survey the wreckage from the rain of artillery three days earlier. As a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier headed toward the Yellow Sea for exercises next week with South Korea, the North warned that the joint maneuvers will push the Korean peninsula to the “brink of war.”

South Korea’s government, meanwhile, struggled to recoup from the surprise attacks that killed four people, including two civilians, and forced its beleaguered defense minister to resign Thursday. President Lee Myung-bak on Friday named a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the post.

Tensions have soared between the Koreas since the North’s strike Tuesday destroyed large parts of Yeonpyeong in a major escalation of their sporadic skirmishes along the disputed sea border.

The attack — eight months after a torpedo sank a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors — has laid bare Seoul’s weaknesses in defense 60 years after the Korean War. Lee has ordered reinforcements for the 4,000 troops on Yeonpyeong and four other Yellow Sea islands, as well as top-level weaponry and upgraded rules of engagement.

The heightened animosity between the Koreas comes as the North undergoes a delicate transition of power from leader Kim Jong Il to his young, inexperienced son Kim Jong Un, who is in his late 20s and is expected to eventually succeed his ailing father.

Washington and Seoul have pressed China to use its influence on Pyongyang to ease tensions amid worries of all-out war. A dispatch Friday from Chinese state media saying Beijing’s foreign minister had met the North Korean ambassador appeared to be an effort to trumpet China’s role as a responsible actor and placate the U.S. and the South.

The North sees the U.S.-South Korean drills scheduled to start Sunday as a major military provocation. Pyongyang unleashed its anger over the planned exercises in a dispatch earlier Friday.

“The situation on the Korean peninsula is inching closer to the brink of war,” the report in the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.

A North Korean official boasted that Pyongyang’s military “precisely aimed and hit the enemy artillery base” as punishment for South Korean military drills — a reference to Tuesday’s attack — and warned of another “shower of dreadful fire,” KCNA reported.

China expressed worry over any war games in waters within its exclusive economic zone, though the statement on the Foreign Ministry website didn’t mention the drills starting Sunday. That zone extends 230 miles (370 kilometers) from China’s coast and includes areas south of Yeonpyeong cited for possible maneuvers, although the exact location of the drills is not known.

North Korea does not recognize the maritime border drawn by the U.N. in 1953, and considers the waters around Yeonpyeong Island its territory.

Yeonpyeong Island, home to South Korean military bases as well as a civilian population of about 1,300 people, lies only seven miles (11 kilometers) from North Korean shores.

The U.S. commander in South Korea, Gen. Walter Sharp, said during a visit to the island that Tuesday’s attack was a clear violation of the armistice signed at the end of the three-year Korean War.

“We at United Nations Command will investigate this completely and call on North Korea to stop any future attacks,” he said.

Washington keeps more than 28,000 troops in South Korea to protect its ally — a sore point for North Korea, which cites the U.S. presence as the main reason behind its drive to build nuclear weapons.

Dressed in a heavy camouflage jacket, army fatigues and a black beret, Sharp carefully stepped down a devastated street strewn with debris and broken glass. Around him were charred bicycles and shattered bottles of soju, Korean rice liquor.

On Friday, Associated Press photographers at an observation point on the northwest side of Yeonpyeong heard explosions and saw at least one flash of light on the North Korean mainland.

There were no immediate reports of damage. Only a few dozen residents remain on Yeonpyeong, with most of its population fleeing in the hours and days after the attack as authorities urged them to evacuate.

Many houses were burned out, half-collapsed or flattened, and the streets were littered with shattered windows, bent metal and other charred wreckage. Several stray dogs barked as they sat near destroyed houses. South Korean marines carrying M-16 rifles patrolled along a seawall at dawn.

About 200 South Koreans held a rally Friday in Seoul to denounce the government’s response to the attack as too weak. Similar recriminations have come from opposition lawmakers and even members of Lee’s own party, leading to the resignation of Defense Minister Kim Tae-young on Thursday.

There also has been intense criticism that Yeonpyeong was unprepared for the attack and that the return fire came too slowly. Lee named former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Kim Kwan-jin to the post, the president’s office said Friday.

While there is some shock at the extent of the damage the North Koreans were able to inflict, most South Koreans want the threat to be contained, not aggravated, and the government response has been muted and cautious, following an initial angry threat from Lee.

The president, dressed in a black suit, visited a military hospital in Seongnam near Seoul on Friday to pay his respects to the two marines killed in the North Korean attack.

Lee laid a white chrysanthemum, a traditional symbol of grief, on an altar, burned incense and bowed before framed photos of the two young men. Consoling sobbing family members, he vowed to build a stronger defense.

“I will make sure that this precious sacrifice will lay the foundation for the strong security of the Republic of Korea,” he wrote in a condolence book, according to his office.

South Korea assured a meeting of the European Olympic Committees on Friday that it would be able to ensure security at the 2018 Winter Games if it’s picked. The Pyeongchang 2018 bid committee presented its case Friday in Belgrade.

___

Foster Klug reported from Seoul. AP writers Christopher Bodeen in Beijing and Kwang-tae Kim, Kelly Olsen and Jean H. Lee in Seoul also contributed to this report.

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South Korea defense minister quits after attack

Posted by Admin on November 25, 2010

Topographic map of South Korea. Created with G...

North/South Korea

 

YEONPYEONG, South Korea (Reuters) – South Korea’s defenseminister resigned on Thursday, two days after an attack by North Korea and amid criticism that the South’s response was too slow.

Kim Tae-young became the first political victim of the attack as China expressed muted criticism of forthcoming joint U.S-south Korean military exercises in the Yellow Sea.

President Lee Myung-bak accepting his minister’s resignation “to improve the atmosphere in the military and to handle the series of incidents”, a presidential official said.

Kim had also tended his resignation in May after the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel in March, but Lee asked him to stay on in the job. The Cheonan attack, in which 46 sailors were killed, was also blamed on the North.

North Korea fired a barrage of artillery shells at the island of Yeonpyeong off the peninsula’s west coast on Tuesday, killing two civilians and two soldiers and destroying dozens of houses.

South Korean troops fired back 13 minutes later, causing unknown damage. Members of Lee’s own party and opposition lawmakers accused the military of responding too slowly.

The government was also criticized for its perceived weak response to the Cheonan incident. North Korea has denied responsibility for that attack.

While China objected to the joint military exercises starting this weekend, North Korea threatened further attacks on the South if there were more “provocations”.

Seoul said it would increase troops on islands near North Korea after the bombardment, which caused a sharp spike in tension in the world’s fastest growing region.

Washington is putting increasing pressure on China to rein in North Korea, but a foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing said what was needed was a revival of the stalled six-party talks involving the two Koreas, Russia, China, Japan and the United States.

“We have noted the relevant reports and express our concern about this,” spokesman Hong Lei said, referring to the joint military exercises and the involvement of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the USS GeorgeWashington in the drill.

But Beijing has previously used stronger language to signal its displeasure. In August, the People’s Liberation Army said earlier plans to send the George Washington to the Yellow Sea would make it lose respect and threatened long-term damage to Sino-U.S. relations.

Seoul expressed frustration with Beijing for not taking sides, noting even Russia had condemned this week’s attack.

“We must engage with China for it to take more responsibility on North Korea’s behavior,” said a government official, who asked not to be identified.

China has long propped up the Pyongyang leadership, worried that a collapse of the North could bring instability to its own borders. Beijing is also wary of a unified Korea that would be dominated by the United States, the key ally of the South.

BELLICOSE RHETORIC

There was no let-up in the typically bellicose language used by North Korea.

“(North Korea) will wage second and even third rounds of attacks without any hesitation if warmongers in South Korea make reckless military provocations again,” the North’s KCNA news agency quoted a statement from the military as saying.

“The U.S. cannot evade the blame for the recent shelling,” it added. “If the U.S. truly desires detente on the Korean peninsula, it should not thoughtlessly shelter the South Korean puppet forces, but strictly control them so that they may not commit any more adventurous military provocations.”

North Korea said the shelling was in self-defense after Seoul fired shells into its waters. The South Korean government official said Seoul had been shocked by the attack for its “indiscriminate bombing of civilians”.

“We could not imagine such a grave provocation,” he said. “But now we see any kind of provocation is possible … and it makes it very easy to respond in the future.”

The official said Tuesday’s artillery attack on Yeonpyeong island could only have been ordered by reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Kim and his son and designated heir, Jong-un, visited the Yellow Sea coastal artillery base from where shells were fired at Yeonpyeong just hours before the attack, North Korean media reported.

“This kind of serious provocation could only be planned by Kim Jong-il,” the official said, adding the attack was also designed to promote the younger Kim’s military credentials.

U.S. officials have said the attack appeared linked to the upcoming succession in North Korea’s leadership.

It was the heaviest attack by the North since the Korean War ended in 1953 and marked the first civilian deaths in an assault since the bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987.

A bitterly cold wind was blowing through the hilly island on Thursday when reporters were allowed to visit for the first time since the attack. North Korea was clearly visible.

Houses were deserted with most residents having fled to the mainland, many with their roofs caved in and charred black. Broken glass was strewn in the narrow alleyways.

The deaths of civilians have added to anger in the South, and sparked heated debate in parliament over the military’s slow response — as well as calls for heads to roll. Defense Minister Kim had been one of the main targets.

While the rhetoric continues, global markets have moved on to other issues after Tuesday’s attack. The stock market opened up in Seoul on Thursday but closed almost flat. (Reporting by Seoul bureau; Writing by Jeremy Laurence; Editing by Nick Macfie and Ron Popeski)

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