Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Artillery fire on Korean border - North Korea artillery fire hits South Korea island (Update 3)

Artillery fire on Korean border
Source: BBC News online - www.bbc.co.uk
Date: Tuesday, 23 November 2010 at 06:46
North Korea has fired artillery shells across its western maritime border, prompting return fire from South Korea, reports say.

Some of the shells landed on a South Korean island, witnesses say.

A television station said some houses on the island were on fire, and Yonhap news agency said that four South Korean soldiers had been hurt.

South Korea has issued its highest non-wartime alert in response to the incident, the defence ministry said.

The incident comes days after North Korea revealed it had a modern uranium enrichment plant.

Earlier, the US ruled out more denuclearisation talks while Pyongyang continued to work on the facility.

'Illegal firing'

South Korean officials said several rounds of artillery landed on Yeonpyeong island, near the disputed inter-Korean maritime border to the west of the Korean Peninsula.

"A North Korean artillery unit staged an illegal firing provocation at 1434 PM (0534 GMT) and South Korean troops fired back immediately in self-defence," a defence ministry spokesman told AFP.

A resident on the island told the agency that dozens of houses were damaged, while television pictures reportedly showed plumes of smoke rising above the island.

This western maritime border has been the scene of numerous clashes between the two Koreas in the past.

In March, a South Korean warship went down near the border with the loss of 46 lives.

International investigators say a North Korean torpedo sank the ship, although Pyongyang denies any role in the incident.

Since then relations between the two neighbours - who have not signed a peace treaty since the 1950-53 Korean War - have been very tense.
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UPDATE on Tuesday, 23 November 2010:
Excerpt from Channel 4 News Snowmail received today at 17:32 pm entitled "North Korea bombards South Korea"
By the time we get to air, fortunately the appalling clash between North and South Korea will be hanging in the air as rhetoric. But this morning's bombardment of a South Korean island by North Korean artillery has provided a nasty wake-up call to the world that the North Korean dictatorship is undergoing some sort of internal upheaval.

Amazingly, fifty years after satellites first read number plates in Red Square, the world has very little idea about what's going on in the inner sanctums of Pyongyang and the great danger is that China is the ultimate protector of North Korea and the United States, with its vast battalions stationed in and around South Korea, is that country's equally great protector. Lindsey Hilsum is on the case and will be talking to a raft of North Korean watchers.

North Korea artillery fire hits South Korea island
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UPDATE on Wednesday, 24 November 2010:

Excerpt from BBC News online report published today at 04:26
President Barack Obama: North Korea 'a serious threat'

In an interview with ABC television news, President Obama said South Korea was an ''ally'' of the US

US President Barack Obama has strongly condemned North Korea's shelling of Yeonpyeong island in South Korea and said the US would defend South Korea.

Mr Obama told ABC News that North Korea was "a serious and ongoing threat that needs to be dealt with".

The attack near a disputed sea border was also denounced by Russia, Japan and the European Union.

South Korea returned fire and threatened missile strikes if there were "further provocations".

President Obama described South Korea as an important ally and "a cornerstone of US security in the Pacific region".

He said: "We strongly affirm our commitment to defend South Korea as part of that alliance.

"We want to make sure all the parties in the region recognise that this is a serious and ongoing threat that needs to be dealt with."

He called on North Korea's ally China to communicate to Pyongyang "that there are a set of international rules they need to abide by".

In a telephone conversation, Mr Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak agreed to hold combined military exercises in the days ahead to underscore the strength of their alliance, the White House said in a statement.

The US has 28,000 troops stationed in the South.

South Korea's military had been carrying out an exercise near Yeonpyeong, but it denies opening hostilities by firing towards the North.

Two South Korean marines died when dozens of artillery shells landed on the island - most of them hitting a military base. Both soldiers and civilians were wounded.

The South fired back some 80 shells. Casualties on the northern side are unknown.
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Joint press conference: FM Liberman and Italian FM Frattini
Source: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website - www.mfa.gov.il
Date: Tuesday, 23 November 2010. Excerpt:
Q: I would like to address Foreign Minister Liberman. I would like to ask for your response regarding the aggression shown by North Korea earlier this morning towards the South. Do you find it -

FM Liberman: We have enough problems with the Middle East.

Q: So I'll make it related to the Middle East. Do you think that it has implications on the Middle East and Israel? Do you find it alarming? And do you think that this act comes because of the changes in the leadership of the regime?

FM Liberman: Of course we really think that North Korea is part of the axis of evil that includes North Korea, Iran and Syria. Because of the close cooperation between these three countries, the proliferation of nuclear technology, the proliferation of missile technology, I think that North Korea is really, as we see, a threat not only to their part of the world but also for the Middle East and the entire world. Also, if the international community cannot stop and cannot suppress this crazy regime and resolve the nuclear problem of North Korea, how can the international community try to deal with the Iranian threat if it cannot stop and restrict even North Korea? I think it's a bad message, and it's necessary today more than in the past to stop and topple this crazy regime and to halt their proliferation and their provocations.

FM Frattini: We all should condemn this North Korean attack. You know, perhaps there is an ongoing G8 consultation which very likely will lead to a common document and, I'm sure, a common message of condemnation against that attack.
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U.S. aircraft carrier heads for Korean waters
Source: Reuters - www.reuters.com - by Jack Kim and Lee Jae-won
INCHEON, South Korea
Date: Wednesday, 24 November 2010 9:56am EST. Excerpts:
A U.S. aircraft carrier group set off for Korean waters on Wednesday, a day after North Korea rained artillery shells on a South Korean island, in a move likely to enrage Pyongyang and unsettle its ally, China. [...]

Despite the rhetoric, regional powers made clear they were looking for a diplomatic way to calm things down.

South Korea, its armed forces technically superior though about half the size of the North's one-million-plus army, warned of "massive retaliation" if its neighbor attacked again.

But it was careful to avoid any immediate threat of retaliation which might spark an escalation of fighting across the Cold War's last frontier.

China has long propped up the Pyongyang leadership, worried that a collapse of the North could bring instability to its own borders and also wary of a unified Korea that would be dominated by the United States, the key ally of the South.

Beijing said it had agreed with the United States to try to restart talks among regional powers over North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

A number of analysts suspect that Tuesday's attack may have been an attempt by North Korean leader Kim jong-il to raise his bargaining position ahead of disarmament talks which he has used in the past to win concessions and aid from the outside world, in particular the United States.

(Reporting by Seoul bureau, Michael Martina, Aileen Wang and Benjamin Kang Lim in Beijing, Kaori Kaneko and Yoko Kubota in Tokyo, Alister Bull, Paul Eckert, Phil Stewart and Arshad Mohammed in Washington and Ralph Jennings in Taipei; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Sanjeev Miglani)
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US Calls North Korean Artillery Strike Armistice Violation
Source: VOA (Voice of America News) - www.voanews.com
Author: David Gollust, US State Department
Date: Wednesday, 24 November 2010
The United States said Wednesday North Korea's lethal artillery strike on a South Korean island was premeditated and a violation of the 1953 Korean War armistice. But U.S. officials do not believe Pyongyang is preparing for an extended military campaign.

Officials here are not minimizing the seriousness of the North Korean artillery barrage, which they call a serious provocation and a deliberate violation of the Korean armistice.

But they say they are not observing preparations for a broader conflict by North Korea, and say they are looking to China to play a "pivotal" role in restraining its neighbor.

State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters the United States is engaged in wide-ranging diplomacy with China and others in the aftermath of the artillery clash, and intends to raise the matter directly with North Korea in the armistice framework.

The spokesman rejected North Korea's claim it acted in self defense after South Korean shelling in a military exercise. He said North Korea attacked the South Korean island hours after the routine exercise ended, in an obviously premeditated act, but that there has been no sign of a broader aggressive move by the North.

"This was in our view a one-off, premeditated act," said Crowley. "Without getting into intelligence matters, we don't see that North Korea is preparing for an extended military confrontation. That's what makes it not a war. It is a violation of the armistice. Among other things, we will have a conversation with North Korean general officers and make clear that this is a violation of the armistice."

Crowley said responsibility for the current crisis "rests exclusively" with North Korea, and the United States recognizes that China - despite being its main ally and aid provider - cannot dictate to Pyongyang.

Nonetheless he said Beijing has influence with North Korea, and the United States expects China to clear as to where the blame rests, and that Pyongyang should not be allowed to derive comfort from thus-far ambivalent Chinese statements on the issue.

President Obama late Tuesday announced U.S.-South Korean military exercises in the wake of the artillery attack, that will include dispatch of the nuclear aircraft carrier George Washington to waters off the Korean peninsula.

China has previously opposed such exercises but Crowley said they contribute to stability for the entire region including China.

"We have a military alliance with South Korea and we will continue to do what we need to do with South Korea to cooperate," he said. "Our alliance with South Korea provides stability and protection, and many, many countries, including China, benefit from the alliance that we have with South Korea and others in the region."

The spokesman said the United States is engaged in broad diplomatic consultations on both the artillery incident and recent claimed advances in North Korea's nuclear program.

Crowley said there have been preliminary contacts in the U.N. Security Council, but there is no indication an emergency council session is being sought.

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