South Korea's Yeonpueong Island is engulfed in thick smoke
after North Korean military launches artillery attackPhoto: EPA via Telegraph
UPDATE 4:15 AM ET
CNN Report, approx. 37 minutes ago:
North Korea fired artillery toward its tense western sea border with South Korea on Tuesday, killing at least one South Korean soldier, the Yonhap news agency reported.From (U.K.) Telegraph, 7:17 AM GMT, November 23
Two civilians and 13 other South Korean military personnel were injured, with three of the soldiers seriously hurt, Yonhap said.
A Ministry of Defense spokesman contradicted the Yonhap report, saying that no deaths had been confirmed and that the military was checking on possible civilian casualties.
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.
The South Korean army also raised its alert condition, 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 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 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.
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.
Journalist Andrew Salmon contributed to this report.
North Korea bombs South Korean islandThe Guardian is live-blogging on the incident; the page automatically updates every minute; last update 7:54 AM GMT.
North Korea has bombarded a South Korean island with artillery shells, injuring civilians and soldiers and setting more than 60 properties ablaze.
by Peter Foster in Beijing
The attack, which comes days after it emerged that North Korea was pressing ahead with its illegal nuclear programme, marks a serious further escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsular.
South Korea officials said dozens of rounds had landed on Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea, 50 miles off the South’s northwest coast in an area close a disputed sea border. Other reports suggested as many as 200 shells were fired.
As South Korean forces returned fire, Civilians were evacuated to emergency bunkers, according witnesses quoted by the Seoul-based cable news television channel YTN. Fighter jets were scrambled and an emergency cabinet meeting was called in Seoul.
Pictures from the TV channel showed at least four plumes of smoke rising from the island which is the largest in a clutch of smaller islands, with a population of less than 2,000 people.
A South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff official, quoted anonymously by the Associated Press, said dozens of rounds of artillery landed on Yeonpyeong island and confirmed that South Korea had returned fire.
The islands were the scene of two skirmishes between the navies of North and South Korea in 1999 and 2002.
The attack comes after nearly two years of deteriorating relations between the two Koreas, which reached a nadir last March after the sinking of a South Korean corvette, the Cheonan, with the loss of 46 lives.
South Korea has since cut off almost all humanitarian aid to the North, a near bankrupt-state that has been under tight international sanctions since conducting a second nuclear bomb test in 2009 in defiance of UN agreements.
The North has also been facing a degree of political turmoil this year as their ailing leader Kim Jong-il prepares the ground for a dynastic succession that will see power being handed to his youngest son, Kim Jong-un.
John Batchelor's analysis (I assume Evan was calling from Seoul):
Spoke Evan Ramstad, WSJ, at approximately 130 am [ET] on Tuesday 23 to learn of the artillery attack on the occupied island of fisherman off the west coast of Korea. Houses afire. Casualties. Report of aircraft launched by South Korea. Much excitement in the media and on Twitter account. Does it connect to the ongoing story of the secret centrifuge facility in North Korea? Am told that this is evidence that North Korea is developing a uranium bomb. This is far more useful that its plutonium bomb. Uranium bomb can be miniaturized for a warhead. North Korea succession struggle continues. The incoherence is the story. The North Koreans are now claiming that they fired in response to a live-fire exercise by the South Koreans at the close of a five-day naval exercise in the West Sea. Blame-shifting developing in slow motion. Markets selling off. Much hemming [and hawing?].