Wednesday, November 24, 2010
SEOUL — North Korea bombarded a South Korean island with dozens of artillery shells Tuesday in one of the fiercest attacks on its neighbor since the Korean War ended in 1953.
South Korea's military said two soldiers were killed, 17 were wounded and three civilians were also hurt after dozens of shells hit Yeonpyeong island.
Most of the shells landed on a South Korean military base there, YTN Television reported.
South Korea returned fire and scrambled F-16 fighter jets, military officials said.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said it was unforgivable for North Korea to fire artillery shells at ordinary people and warned any further North Korean attacks would be met by "enormous retaliation."
"Indiscriminate attacks on civilians are unpardonable, also in a humanitarian sense," he told a military briefing, according to a pool report.
He had ordered officials to "sternly respond" to North Korea's action but also called on officials to make sure that the "situation would not escalate," according to a presidential official. He asked not to be identified, citing the issue's sensitivity.
YTN television said dozens of houses were on fire on Yeonpyeong, about 75 miles west of the capital Seoul.
'Frightened to death'
The station broadcast pictures of thick columns of black smoke rising from the island. Screams and chaotic shouts could be heard on the video. YTN said between 1,200 and 1,300 people live on the island.
"Houses and mountains are on fire and people are evacuating. You can't see very well because of plumes of smoke," a witness on the island told YTN before the shelling ended after about an hour. "People are frightened to death."
YTN quoted a witness as saying fires were burning out of control.
North Korea bombarded a South Korean island with dozens of artillery shells Tuesday in one of the fiercest attacks on its neighbor since the Korean War ended in 1953.
Yeonpyeong, which houses military installations and a small civilian population, is located off the west coast of the divided peninsula near a disputed maritime border. The area has been the focus of two previous deadly battles between the Koreas.
South Korea responded by firing K-9 155 mm self-propelled howitzers, but a South Korean official declined to say whether North Korean territory was hit.
"This is an intentional and planned attack," Lee Hong Ki, a South Korean defense ministry official, told reporters.
North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency claimed that South Korea fired first, Reuters reported.
North Korea later threatened to continue launching "merciless" strikes against South Korea if it violates their disputed sea border by "even 0.001 millimeter."
The clash came amid South Korean military drills in the area.
North Korea's military had sent a message to South Korea's armed forces early Tuesday to demand that the drills stop, but the South continued them, according to an official at South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.
During the drills, South Korean marines on the island shot artillery toward southern waters, away from North Korea, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of military rules.
U.S. 'strongly condemns' attack
The White House said it "strongly condemns the attack" and called on Pyongyang to "halt its belligerent action."
In a statement, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the U.S. "is firmly committed to the defense of our ally, the Republic of Korea, and to the maintenance of regional peace and stability."
U.S. military officials told NBC News that American forces were not involved in the clash. However, the Pentagon was monitoring the situation closely.