North Korea shells South Korean island

北朝鮮が韓国の島砲撃、兵士2人死亡 民間人も負傷





South Korea returned artillery fire after North Koreaunleashed a hail of 200 shells on Yeonpyeong island in the Yellow Sea on Tuesday.

Seoul scrambled F-16 fighter jets and lifted the state of military readiness to its highest level short of war. The government convened an emergency meeting in the war bunker of the presidential office.

The attack, which comes days after North Korea revealed the existence of a previously secret uranium nuclear programme, raises the stakes in an increasingly tense stand-off between the two Koreas by targeting civilians, something Seoul had dreaded could follow the sinking of a warship in March with the loss of 46 sailors.

It was the North’s boldest assault on civilian targets since it planted a bomb on a South Korean airliner in 1987, killing 115 people.

In Washington, the White House said it “strongly condemns this attack and calls on North Korea to halt its belligerent action”. It added that the US was “firmly committed to the defence of our ally, the Republic of Korea, and to the maintenance of regional peace and stability”.

Responding to the incident, the Chinese foreign ministry called on the “relevant parties [to] do more to contribute to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula”.

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

South Korean state television showed photographs of several plumes of thick black smoke billowing from houses on the island of Yeonpyeong, just off North Korea’s west coast in the Yellow Sea.

Some of the 1,300 islanders – sobbing and breathless with panic – rang in to South Korean television stations to describe the aftermath of the attack.

“The flames are spreading from house to house. Things are really out of hand. It is so serious as the houses are packed together,” one man told the MBN channel. He described people trying to salvage clothes from their houses before the military evacuated them to bunkers.

North Korea had no immediate comment on its motives. The Yellow Sea lies on a disputed maritime border where Pyongyang often expresses anger at South Korean naval exercises.

Many analysts say North Korea is flexing its muscles to smooth the succession of Kim Jong-eun, the third son of Kim Jong-il, the country’s ailing dictator. They say he is seeking to build political capital by bloodying the South with attacks such as the torpedoing of the warship Cheonan in March.
The unveiling of the a new uranium enrichment facility could also have been part of an attempt to build Kim Jong-eun’s power base.

South Korea’s foreign minister said Seoul would consider referring the attack to the United Nations’ Security Council.

Following the attack, North Korea said it would “launch merciless military retaliatory strikes” if South Korea crossed the disputed maritime border “even 0.001 millimetre”. Both countries routinely accuse the other’s ships of crossing the border.

News of the attack came after South Korea’s foreign exchange market and stock market had closed. However, the one-month dollar/won non-deliverable forward – which reflects expectations of the won’s strength a month from now – jumped as much as 3.5 per cent after the artillery strike. Before the shelling, the won closed down 1 per cent to 1,137.5 per dollar. The Kospi stock index ended 0.79 per cent lower.


Naoto Kan, the Japanese prime minister, said the defence ministry had been instructed to gather information about the incident and to ensure it was prepared for any contingencies.

The incident is likely to strengthen Japanese determination to work more closely with the US and South Korea in pushing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.

A Japanese official familiar with policy towards North Korea said the shelling should be seen in the context of Pyongyang’s leadership transition and was unlikely to herald the launch of wider military action.

“Their intention will not be to go so far as to engage in an outright battle with South Korea or the US,” the official said, suggesting that Pyongyang’s main goal was likely to be to unifying support for Kim Jong-eun.

“A kind of controlled battle or clash may have been needed to demonstrate the determination of the new leader,” he added.

Japan’s Democratic party-led government has made improving relations with South Korea a policy goal and Seiji Maehara, the DPJ foreign minister, is keen to tighten co-operation with Seoul and Washington.

The relatively united front presented by the three democracies has highlighted dissatisfaction with China’s reluctance to do more to force Pyongyang to make substantive concessions on its nuclear programme.

The Japanese official said the shelling would increase pressure on Beijing to play a more active role.

“This will make China’s position more difficult,” he said.

Stephen Bosworth, the US special envoy on North Korea, arrived in Beijing on Tuesday on a tour of the region aimed at laying the groundwork for a possible return to six-party talks between the US, China, Japan, Russia and North and South Korea. Mr Bosworth was expected to make a statement on Tuesday evening in Beijing.

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