North Korea on Tuesday fired scores of coastal artillery and howitzer shells on Yeonpyeong Island in the West Sea, killing two South Korean marines, wounding 16 soldiers and three civilians, and damaging homes and facilities. This was the first time since the Korean War that the North has fired artillery shells on a civilian area in South Korea.
President Lee Myung-bak warned the North could launch further provocations because its military" is still on the offensive. I believe we should punish them severely to a point where they will never think of another attack." Lee was speaking during a visit to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The government called the attack a "clear armed provocation." Lee later told ministers in charge of foreign affairs and security to "respond firmly beyond the rules of engagement," according to a government spokesman.
The South Korean military fired back some 80 K-9 self-propelled howitzer shells at the North Korean coastal artillery batteries. The two militaries exchanged fire for about an hour.
According to the JCS, the North Korean shells were fired from Kaemori and Mudo, both in Kangryong, South Hwanghae Province, from 2:34 to 2:55 p.m. and from 3:10 to 3:41 p.m. Many landed on a military camp but others on a civilian village on the island. Flames and thick columns of smoke were seen rising above the village and a nearby mountain. "The North must have carefully premeditated the provocation against the camp," a JCS officer speculated.
Locals were evacuated to shelters on the island, and military and police are assessing the damage. The JCS issued the highest Defcon level and increased the level of Watchcon, a five-stage surveillance alert, from 3 to 2. It also raised the alert for all military forces across the country.
North Korea claims the South Korea fired first since an annual drill was underway. "Despite our repeated warnings, South Korea fired dozens of shells... and we've taken strong military action immediately," the official Korean Central News Agency said.
But JCS spokesman Lee Bung-woo denied this, "Our military carried out its regular maritime fire drill not northward but southward in the West Sea. Firing artillery shells on a civilian area under this pretext is clearly an illegal act and violation of the armistice."
Presidential spokesman Hong Sang-pyo told reporters, "Seeing the North's attack as an armed provocation, the government will cooperate with or make requests to allies or the UN." "The government will take more concrete steps after further analyzing the situation," he added.
The Unification Ministry decided to cancel inter-Korean Red Cross talks, which were slated for Thursday. They were to have discussed regular reunions of families separated by the Korean War, resumption of package tours to Mt. Kumgang, and rice and fertilizer aid to the North. The ministry also banned all visits from businesspeople and staff to the joint Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex on Wednesday.