AP, YEONPYEONG ISLAND, South Korea
North Korea yesterday warned that US-South Korean plans for military maneuvers put the peninsula on the brink of war, and appeared to launch its own artillery drills within sight of an island it showered with a deadly barrage this week.
The fresh artillery blasts were especially defiant because they came as the US commander in South Korea, General Walter Sharp, toured Yeonpyeong Island to survey damage from Tuesday’s hail of North Korean artillery fire that killed four people.
None of the latest rounds hit the South’s territory, and US military officials said Sharp did not even hear the concussions, though residents on other parts of the island panicked and ran back to the air raid shelters where they huddled earlier in the week as white smoke rose from North Korean territory.
Tuesday’s attack — eight months after a torpedo sank a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors — has also laid bare weaknesses in the South’s defense 60 years after the Korean War.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak yesterday named a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to replace Kim Tae-young, who was sacked as defense minister on Thursday.
US-South Korean military drills in the Yellow Sea are scheduled to start tomorrow, and will include a US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The North unleashed its anger over the planned exercises in a dispatch yesterday.
“The situation on the Korean Peninsula is inching closer to the brink of war,” the report in the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KNCA) said.
A North Korean official boasted that Pyongyang’s military “precisely aimed and hit the enemy artillery base” as punishment for South Korean military drills — a reference to Tuesday’s attack — and warned of another “shower of dreadful fire,” KCNA reported in a separate dispatch.
China also expressed concern over any war games in waters within its exclusive economic zone, though the statement on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Web site didn’t mention the latest drills.
That zone extends 370km from China’s coastline and includes areas south of Yeonpyeong cited for possible maneuvers, though the exact location of the drills is not known.
Sharp said Tuesday’s attack was a clear violation of the 1953 Korean War armistice.
“We at United Nations Command will investigate this completely and call on North Korea to stop any future attacks,” he said.
Dressed in a heavy camouflage jacket, army fatigues and a black beret, Sharp walked down a heavily damaged street strewn with debris from buildings. Around him were charred bicycles and shattered bottles of soju, Korean rice liquor.
Many houses were blackened, half-collapsed or flattened, the streets littered with shattered windows, bent metal and other charred wreckage. Several stray dogs barked as they sat near destroyed houses.
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