Categorized | International

North Korean Shells Shatter Illusions of Security as Wargames Turn Deadly

By Sookyung Seo and Bomi Lim –

Like many of the 1,700 residents of Yeonpyeong island, Shin Seung Won had grown accustomed to the distant rumble of artillery fire by North and South Korea. This week, the tit-for-tat exercises took on a deadly reality.

“I’ve lived with the sound of shelling all my life,” said Shin, who runs a motel on the South Korean island, where the military conducts live-firing drills less than 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) away from North Korean troops. “I looked out the window after hearing a thundering sound and saw my neighbor’s house on fire,” Shin said in a telephone interview.

North Korea has sought to justify its Nov. 23 shelling of Yeonpyeong, the first such attack on South Korean soil in half a century, on what it termed “military provocation” in disputed waters. Two soldiers and two civilians died in the barrage, which triggered declines in global financial markets and drew international condemnation.

“The proximity of these islands to the western border makes North Korea feel like it’s constantly at gunpoint,” said Kim Yong Hyun, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. “The disputed area also gives North Korea an easy excuse for provocation to create havoc and so get the international community’s attention.”

The MSCI World index dropped as much as 2 percent on the day of the attack and the won fell more than 1 percent. President Barack Obama, South Korean President Lee Myung Bak and Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan were among leaders who condemned Kim Jong Il’s regime. China’s Premier Wen Jiabao called for restraint without ascribing any blame to North Korea, a communist ally for the past 60 years.

Military Response
North Korea’s state-run news service yesterday said it urged the South to call off exercises in the area and warned of a military response to any infringement of its “inviolable territorial” waters. The U.S. sent the aircraft carrier USS George Washington for joint drills off South Korea’s western coast between Nov. 28 and Dec. 1. The exercises had been planned before the shelling and are “defensive in nature,” the U.S. forces in Seoul said in an e-mailed statement.

Yeonpyeong lies 2 1/2-hours by boat from the South Korean port of Incheon. The government resumed ferry services yesterday after evacuating many island residents following the attack. The island is situated about 2 miles from the western maritime border disputed by North Korea.

The sea border was demarcated by the United Nations after the 1950-1953 civil war and never accepted by the North. The area is rich in fishing, attracting boats from both Koreas and China during the crabbing season in May and June.

Naval Skirmishes

North and South Korea engaged in deadly naval skirmishes in 1999 and 2002 close to the island. The area was also where the South Korean warship Cheonan sank in March, killing 46 sailors. An international panel blamed a torpedo from a North Korean mini-submarine for the incident, a finding denied by Kim Jong Il’s regime and never accepted by China, his closest ally.

North Korea started firing artillery after the South Korean navy conducted its monthly live-fire exercises near the border. North Korea said it contacted the South at 8 a.m. on Nov. 23 to demand maneuvers be scrapped.

“Should the South Korean puppet group dare intrude into our territorial waters even 0.001 mm, our revolutionary armed forces will unhesitatingly continue taking merciless military counter-actions against it,” North Korea said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency after the shelling.

Under fire from the North, South Korean Marines took 10 minutes to pinpoint their target before counter-attacking, Lieutenant-General Joo Jong Hwa told reporters on a tour of the island yesterday. There has been no information on possible North Korean casualties.

Artillery Exchange

“North Korea argues that we fired at them first, but this is the direction that we fired,” at earlier, Joo said, pointing southwest, away from the peninsula.

Lieutenant Kim Jung Soo said his company had been conducting firing drills until just before the North Korean barrage commenced. Two members of his team wore helmets that had been scorched by the shelling.

The North’s artillery attack set 22 houses ablaze and burned at least 3,300 square meters of mountainous area, South Korea’s Ministry of Public Administration and Security said on its website. At least 740 people were evacuated from the island, according to the ministry and Coast Guard.

Washing Dishes
Yu Kyung Soon, 53, said she was washing dishes in the elementary school cafeteria on the island when the windows suddenly shattered. Together with her female co-workers, she crawled on the floor seeking a place to hide.

When we emerged from the building “it was a sea of fire, with dark smoke everywhere,” Yu said in an interview at Incheon port yesterday. “I thought ‘this is war. This is the day that I will die.’”

The school’s 90 students were immediately ushered to a bomb shelter, she said.

“The kids were loud and excited, but none of them seemed to be really scared,” Yu said. “It was just minutes after we were joking how the North Koreans would never attack us first and target the capital instead.”

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A Moment with the Registrar of Lands

By Sookyung Seo and Bomi Lim –

Like many of the 1,700 residents of Yeonpyeong island, Shin Seung Won had grown accustomed to the distant rumble of artillery fire by North and South Korea. This week, the tit-for-tat exercises took on a deadly reality.

“I’ve lived with the sound of shelling all my life,” said Shin, who runs a motel on the South Korean island, where the military conducts live-firing drills less than 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) away from North Korean troops. “I looked out the window after hearing a thundering sound and saw my neighbor’s house on fire,” Shin said in a telephone interview.

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North Korea has sought to justify its Nov. 23 shelling of Yeonpyeong, the first such attack on South Korean soil in half a century, on what it termed “military provocation” in disputed waters. Two soldiers and two civilians died in the barrage, which triggered declines in global financial markets and drew international condemnation.

“The proximity of these islands to the western border makes North Korea feel like it’s constantly at gunpoint,” said Kim Yong Hyun, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. “The disputed area also gives North Korea an easy excuse for provocation to create havoc and so get the international community’s attention.”

The MSCI World index dropped as much as 2 percent on the day of the attack and the won fell more than 1 percent. President Barack Obama, South Korean President Lee Myung Bak and Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan were among leaders who condemned Kim Jong Il’s regime. China’s Premier Wen Jiabao called for restraint without ascribing any blame to North Korea, a communist ally for the past 60 years.

Military Response
North Korea’s state-run news service yesterday said it urged the South to call off exercises in the area and warned of a military response to any infringement of its “inviolable territorial” waters. The U.S. sent the aircraft carrier USS George Washington for joint drills off South Korea’s western coast between Nov. 28 and Dec. 1. The exercises had been planned before the shelling and are “defensive in nature,” the U.S. forces in Seoul said in an e-mailed statement.

Yeonpyeong lies 2 1/2-hours by boat from the South Korean port of Incheon. The government resumed ferry services yesterday after evacuating many island residents following the attack. The island is situated about 2 miles from the western maritime border disputed by North Korea.

The sea border was demarcated by the United Nations after the 1950-1953 civil war and never accepted by the North. The area is rich in fishing, attracting boats from both Koreas and China during the crabbing season in May and June.

Naval Skirmishes

North and South Korea engaged in deadly naval skirmishes in 1999 and 2002 close to the island. The area was also where the South Korean warship Cheonan sank in March, killing 46 sailors. An international panel blamed a torpedo from a North Korean mini-submarine for the incident, a finding denied by Kim Jong Il’s regime and never accepted by China, his closest ally.

North Korea started firing artillery after the South Korean navy conducted its monthly live-fire exercises near the border. North Korea said it contacted the South at 8 a.m. on Nov. 23 to demand maneuvers be scrapped.

“Should the South Korean puppet group dare intrude into our territorial waters even 0.001 mm, our revolutionary armed forces will unhesitatingly continue taking merciless military counter-actions against it,” North Korea said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency after the shelling.

Under fire from the North, South Korean Marines took 10 minutes to pinpoint their target before counter-attacking, Lieutenant-General Joo Jong Hwa told reporters on a tour of the island yesterday. There has been no information on possible North Korean casualties.

Artillery Exchange

“North Korea argues that we fired at them first, but this is the direction that we fired,” at earlier, Joo said, pointing southwest, away from the peninsula.

Lieutenant Kim Jung Soo said his company had been conducting firing drills until just before the North Korean barrage commenced. Two members of his team wore helmets that had been scorched by the shelling.

The North’s artillery attack set 22 houses ablaze and burned at least 3,300 square meters of mountainous area, South Korea’s Ministry of Public Administration and Security said on its website. At least 740 people were evacuated from the island, according to the ministry and Coast Guard.

Washing Dishes
Yu Kyung Soon, 53, said she was washing dishes in the elementary school cafeteria on the island when the windows suddenly shattered. Together with her female co-workers, she crawled on the floor seeking a place to hide.

When we emerged from the building “it was a sea of fire, with dark smoke everywhere,” Yu said in an interview at Incheon port yesterday. “I thought ‘this is war. This is the day that I will die.’”

The school’s 90 students were immediately ushered to a bomb shelter, she said.

“The kids were loud and excited, but none of them seemed to be really scared,” Yu said. “It was just minutes after we were joking how the North Koreans would never attack us first and target the capital instead.”