North Korea fires hundreds of shells near South Korean islands

(Seoul) North Korea fired more than 200 shells Friday into the Yellow Sea, near the remote South Korean islands of Yeonpyeong and Baengnyeong where civilians have fled to shelters, and Seoul responded with a live ammunition exercise in the same region.

This military escalation is one of the most serious on the peninsula since 2010, when the North bombed Yeonpyeong. It comes after a burst of bellicose statements from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who has notably threatened in recent days to “annihilate” South Korea and the United States.

Seoul denounced a “provocation” and a few hours later conducted a live ammunition exercise in Yeonpyeong using K9 self-propelled howitzers. Ferries connecting these islands, located very close to the North Korean coast, to the rest of South Korea have also been suspended.

According to the South Korean Defense Ministry, the North Korean military “carried out more than 200 shots” in the waters near the two islands between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. (12 a.m. and 9 p.m. Eastern Time).

Residents were ordered to shelters, according to local officials. Authorities on Yeonpyeong Island told AFP that the evacuation order was a “preventive measure”.

South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik denounced “a provocative act that threatens peace on the Korean peninsula and aggravates tensions.”

“Overwhelming force”

The South Korean military will take “immediate, strong and definitive retaliatory measures – we must support peace with overwhelming force”, he added.

The ministry clarified that the shooting caused no casualties or damage, as the shells fell north of the de facto maritime border, called the “Northern Limit Line” (NLL).


A South Korean military exercise on Yeonpyeong Island.

China, an ally of North Korea, called “all parties for calm and restraint”, saying it hoped that they “will refrain from taking measures that aggravate tensions (and) that they will avoid a new escalation “.

Yeonpyeong Island, which has around 2,000 inhabitants, is located 115 km west of Seoul and around ten kilometers south of the North Korean coast. Also very close to North Korea, Baengnyeong, 4,900 inhabitants, is 210 km from the capital.

“I first thought they were shells fired by our own army, but I was later told it was North Korea,” said resident Kim Jin-soo. from Baengnyeong Island, to TV channel YTN.

Residents “stricken with fear”

“The residents of the five islands are seized with fear,” he continued, referring to these South Korean islands located near the North.

In 2010, the North Korean military bombed Yeonpyeong in response to a South Korean live ammunition exercise near the border. This first North Korean attack against civilians since the Korean War (1950-1953) left four dead, two soldiers and two civilians.

South Korea responded. The artillery duel had lasted about an hour, with each side firing some 200 shells, raising fears of a major escalation.

Relations between the two Koreas are currently at their lowest point in decades.

At the end of December, Kim Jong-un ordered the acceleration of military preparations for a “war” that could “be launched at any time”. He also denounced the “persistent and uncontrollable crisis situation” which, according to him, was triggered by Seoul and Washington with their joint military exercises in the region.

Last year, North Korea enshrined its status as a nuclear power in its constitution and fired several intercontinental ballistic missiles, in violation of UN resolutions.

In another sign of worsening tensions between the two neighbors, Seoul partially suspended in November an agreement concluded with Pyongyang in 2018 which aimed to prevent border military incidents.

North Korea responded by completely withdrawing from this agreement, which notably established “buffer zones” along the border in which all live ammunition firing was prohibited.

“The cancellation of the agreement increases the possibility of military clashes in border areas,” Yang Moo-jin, president of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told AFP.

“The evacuation of our residents raises psychological and security concerns, which may ultimately destabilize South Korea’s economy,” added the expert.


Leave a Comment