N. Korea fires on S. Korea, killing 1 and injuring more than a dozen

Post date: Nov 23, 2010 9:50:31 AM

North Korea fired artillery toward its tense western sea border with South Korea on Tuesday, killing one South Korean marine, the South's Defense Ministry said.

Seventeen other soldiers were wounded, three seriously, defense officials said.

Two civilians were injured in the attack, the Yonhap news agency said.

At least 200 rounds of artillery hit an inhabited South Korean island in the Yellow Sea after the North started firing about 2:30 p.m. local time, Yonhap said.

South Korea's military responded with 80 rounds of artillery and deployed fighter jets to counter the fire, the report said.

Images of plumes of smoke were quickly broadcast on Yonhap television from the island of Yeonpyeong, with some homes on fire. It was not immediately clear how much damage the artillery had done. The island has a large military garrison.The South Korean army also raised its alert condition, the report said.

The island has a total of about 1,300 residents, a fisherman who lives on the island told Yonhap.

Some residents started fleeing for the South Korean mainland, which is about 145 kilometers [90 miles] away. Other residents were seeking shelter at schools.

The South Korean government immediately called an emergency meeting of its security ministers, meeting in a bunker under the presidential residence in Seoul.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak ordered his ministers to take measures against an escalation of the situation, presidential spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung said, according to Yonhap.

"Take a stern response and carefully manage the situation from further escalating," the president said.

The United States quickly offered support.

"We are in close and continuing contact with our Korean allies," the White House said in a news release. "The United States strongly condemns this attack and calls on North Korea to halt its belligerent action and to fully abide by the terms of the Armistice Agreement."

"The United States is firmly committed to the defense of our ally, the Republic of Korea, and to the maintenance of regional peace and stability."

The North Korean fire came as the South's military conducted routine drills in waters off the island, which is about 10 kilometers [6 miles] from the North.

South Korea's annual Hoguk military exercises were to last nine days and include as many as 70,000 South Korean military personnel, according to the Stratfor global intelligence company.

The Yellow Sea has been a longstanding flashpoint between the two Koreas, but Tuesday's attack was an escalation in violence.

"Our navy was conducting a maritime exercise near the western sea border today. North Korea has sent a letter of protest over the drill. We're examining a possible link between the protest and the artillery attack," presidential spokeswoman Kim said, according to Yonhap.

The island is part of a small archipelago about 80 kilometers [49 miles] west of the South Korean port of Inchon, which serves Seoul, and is close to the tense Northern Limit Line, the maritime border between the two Koreas in the Yellow Sea.

A South Korean warship, the Cheonan was sunk in the area in March with the loss of 46 lives in a suspected North Korean torpedo attack.

North Korean artillery is extremely difficult to hit, because it is dug into coastal cliffs. Though the North has tested its artillery -- and tested anti-shipping missiles -- it has not fired artillery into South Korean territory in recent years.

One of North Korea's most potent threats is the hundreds of artillery barrels dug in along its demilitarized zone with South Korea and ranged on Seoul.

Yonhap television was covering the attack nonstop in South Korea, forgoing other news Tuesday. Meanwhile, state television in North Korea did not mention the attack.

Source: CNN.com