South Korea yesterday marked the anniversary of North Korea’s 2010 shelling of a border island with a military drill and memorials, clouded by the threat of a fresh attack from Pyongyang.
The Nov. 23 attack on Yeonpyeong Island killed two South Korean marines and two civilians in one of the most serious border incidents since the 1950-1953 Korean War.
In the intervening two years, most of the islanders who fled with the intention of resettling on the mainland have returned.
However, their home has changed dramatically and now bristles with new fortifications, a three-fold increase in troop numbers and the regular wail of sirens signaling another attack warning drill.
“Some say they still can’t sleep well at night, can’t breath well or their heartbeat gets faster when the sirens go off,” local doctor Park Kil-soon said.
Yesterday, the South Korean military conducted simulated and field exercises in and around the island involving marine, navy and air force troops, under various North Korea attack scenarios.
Defense officials said that no live artillery rounds were used in an apparent effort to avoid provoking Pyongyang.
A new museum was inaugurated in Yeonpyeong, featuring photos, 3D images and videos detailing the 2010 attack, and incorporating the wreckage of two shelled homes, with charred children’s bicycles and other items.
In Seoul, South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik led a service at the city’s War Memorial, during which he spoke of the “reckless brutality” displayed by the shelling.
North Korea has ridiculed the memorial activities, and its military on Thursday threatened another attack on the island, saying its only regret was not sending Yeonpyeong “to the bottom of the sea” two years ago.
Meanwhile, a Japanese newspaper said yesterday that North Korea could be preparing a long-range ballistic missile test, citing officials who have seen US intelligence analysis.
“The United States has detected moves that are seen as preparation by North Korea for a long-range missile launch, which could take place as early as this month,” the Asahi Shimbun said, citing unnamed government officials.
The US traditionally shares such information with its two allies in the region, South Korea and Japan.
North Korea is believed to be developing a long-range ballistic missile with a range of up to 6,700km aimed at hitting the continental US, but the last two rocket test launches failed.
In April, under its new leader, Kim Jong-un, North Korea launched a rocket that flew just a few minutes covering a little more than 100km before crashing into the sea between South Korea and China.
North Korea has said the April launch was aimed at putting a scientific satellite into orbit.
An official at South Korea’s office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff declined to confirm what movements had been detected at the missile site, Tongchang-ri, on North Korea’s west coast near China, but said it was monitoring developments.