North and South Korea clash across tense border

An artillery exchange Tuesday between North and South Korea may be the 'most serious incident' since the Korean War. Two South Korean soldiers were left dead.

Smoke billows from Yeonpyeong island near the border against North Korea, in South Korea, Nov. 23. North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire Tuesday after the North shelled an island near their disputed sea border, killing at least two South Korean marines, setting dozens of buildings ablaze and sending civilians fleeing for shelter.

• A summary of global reports on security issues.

North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire along their tense border region on Tuesday, in what some observers have called the “most serious incident” since the Korean War ended with a ceasefire in 1953.

Dozens artillery shells slammed into the Yeonpyeong Island on the contentious Western border. The volley killed two South Korean marines and injured at least two other marines and four civilians. South Korean forces then returned fire.

North Korean officials have blamed South Korea for the incident and said their troops did not fire first. The exchange comes at an especially tense time just after North Korea showed off what it claimed was a new uranium enrichment facility on Saturday, adding to concerns that the country is edging closer to developing a nuclear weapons program.

“North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong island constitutes a clear armed provocation. Furthermore, its reckless shelling of civilian targets is unpardonable,” said South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in a statement quoted by the BBC. He also warned that his nation would “sternly retaliate against any further provocations.”

Following the attack, the South Korea’s Join Chiefs of Staff issued the highest state of military alert for the country and scrambled F-16 fighter jets to act as a deterrent against further aggression in the area, reports the Korea Joongang Daily. Meanwhile, key government officials and the president met for an emergency meeting.

In an opinion piece for the Financial Times, Aidan Foster-Carter, a Korea expert, writes that the attacks combined with the recent revealing of its new uranium enrichment facility may have been part of a calculated maneuver by North Korea to ensure that world leaders continue to take the nation seriously.

“In both cases the North Korean move is designed to give the US, South Korea and their allies a fresh headache they could well do without. Then as now the message is clear. We can cause trouble. We know how to do so. You had better believe it, and start taking us more seriously,” writes Mr. Foster-Carter.

In addition to human causalities, the Korea Times reports that the artillery barrage destroyed between 60 and 70 homes on Yeonpyeong Island.

Among residents of South Korea, there is concern that the artillery exchange could lead to more violence, while others doubt it will result in a bigger conflict, reports the Wall Street Journal.

“I don’t think there will be any war because of this, but I’m not sure if (the South Korea’s) firing back was the right choice. North Korea is an unpredictable country — we don’t know what they’ll do about our action. I am afraid that the situation will worsen,” said Lee Sung-bok in the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, South Korean officials have stopped all passenger ships from entering in the disputed area. For the time being it is still allowing commercial flights to pass over the area, reports Bloomberg.

The volley took place along the North Limit Line that was established after the Korean War ended in 1953. While it was recognized by the South, the North has never officially accepted it, reports Russia’s RTT News. The disputed border region has been the site of clashes between the two nations in 1999, 2002, and most recently in November 2009.

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