Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Korea on brink of all-out war

Smoke rises from South Korea's Yeonpyeong island near the border against North Korea Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010.
Smoke rises from South Korea's Yeonpyeong island near the border against North Korea Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010.
Houses are burned on South Korea's Yeonpyeong island near the border against North Korea, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010. North Korea shot dozens of rounds of artillery onto the populated South Korean island near their disputed western border Tuesday, military officials said, setting buildings on fire and prompting South Korea to return fire and scramble fighter jets. (AP Photo/Yonhap) KOREA OUT
A South Korean man watches a TV screen showing smoking from South Korea's Yeonpyeong island near the border of North Korea, at Seoul train station Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010. North Korea shot dozens of rounds of artillery onto the populated South Korean island near their disputed western border Tuesday, military officials said, setting buildings on fire and prompting South Korea to return fire and scramble fighter jets. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
FILE FILE In this photo taken Friday, Aug. 2, 2010, South Korean Marines self-propelled artillery K-9 howitzers fire during a military drill against possible attacks from North Korea on Baengnyeong Island, South Korea. North Korea shot dozens of rounds of artillery onto the populated South Korean island near their disputed western border Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010, military officials said, setting buildings on fire and prompting South Korea to return fire and scramble fighter jets. (AP Photo/Yonhap, Suh Myung-gon) KOREA OUT
People and soldiers arrive from Yeongpyeong Island at Incheon port, west of Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010. North Korea shot dozens of rounds of artillery onto the populated South Korean island near their disputed western border Tuesday, military officials said, setting buildings on fire and prompting South Korea to return fire and scramble fighter jets. (AP Photo/Yonhap) KOREA OUT
Smoke rises from South Korea's Yeonpyeong island near the border against North Korea Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010. North Korea fired artillery barrages onto the South Korean island near their disputed border Tuesday, setting buildings alight and prompting South Korea to return fire and scramble fighter jets. (AP Photo/Yonhap) KOREA OUT
Smoke rises from South Korea's Yeonpyeong island near the border against North Korea Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010. North Korea fired artillery barrages onto the South Korean island near their disputed border Tuesday, setting buildings alight and prompting South Korea to return fire and scramble fighter jets. (AP Photo/Yonhap) KOREA OUT
South Korean villagers watch smoke from South Korea's Yeonpyeong island near the border against North Korea Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010. North Korea fired artillery barrages onto the South Korean island near their disputed border Tuesday, setting buildings alight and prompting South Korea to return fire and scramble fighter jets. (AP Photo/Yonhap) KOREA OUT
Pillars of smoke billow from South Korea's Yeonpyeong island near the border with North Korea (AP)
People watch a TV screen at Seoul train station showing smoke from South Korea's Yeonpyeong island (AP)
North Korea's leader Kim Jong II will be succeeded by his son Kim Jong Un (AP)

The divided Korean Peninsula appeared to be teetering on the brink of all-out war yesterday after the North fired dozens of shells across the border during military drills by the South. Two South Korean soldiers were killed and 16 other people were reportedly injured.

The artillery bombardment left parts of Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea, north west of the capital Seoul, in smoking ruins.

President Lee Myung-bak put the South's military on its highest alert and called the shelling a “completely unforgivable” attack on civilians.

“I think enormous retaliation is going to be necessary to make North Korea incapable of provoking us again,” he told Yonhap news agency.

Mr Lee insisted that an attack on a village of farmers and fishermen, accustomed to living in peace with the certainty that South Korean forces patrolling the waters around them would ensure their survival, could not go unanswered.

The attacks called for “a response beyond the rule of engagement”, he said.

As political pressure mounted for a return strike, he added: “Our military should show this through action rather than an administrative response.”

In Seoul, fearful members of the public crowded around television sets showing plumes of smoke rising from the village.

“People are shocked,” said office worker Lee Yong-suk,. “People are dying. It's a kind of war.”

South Korea's defence ministry claimed that dozens of homes were hit in the hour-long attack, apparently targeted at a military base, and that the South Korean military fired back about 80 shells before the two sides returned to an uneasy stand-off.

Pyongyang claimed the South fired first and threatened a “merciless” response.

In a statement aired on the state-run KCNA news agency, the North's military said the South had “recklessly provoked” yesterday's exchange by firing “dozens of shells” inside its territorial waters during military exercises, “despite repeated warnings”.

It added: “The revolutionary armed forces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea standing guard over the inviolable territorial waters of the country took such decisive military step as reacting to the military provocation of the puppet group with a prompt powerful physical strike.”

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