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November 23, 2010 (KATAKAMI / RIA NOVOSTI ) — North Korea opened artillery fire at a South Korean island on Tuesday, killing one soldier and provoking a retaliatory attack from the South, Seoul’s YTN television reported.
An eyewitness told the TV station that some 60 to 70 houses were ablaze on the Yeonpyeong island in the Yellow Sea. The island, which is off the countries’ west coast, is populated by some 1,200 people.
A spokesman for South Korea’s joint chief of staff said “scores of rounds” were fired by the North. South Korean military retaliated by firing some 80 rounds, Yonhap said.
At least one South Korean marine is reported to have died, with three seriously injured. It is not immediately known if there were any civilian casualties.
The South Korean military is on its highest non-war alert and the Air Force has deployed fighter jets to the island.
Yonhap said Seoul was considering the evacuation of its nationals currently in North Korea.
“We will decide whether we should evacuate them or not after looking into the safety of those at the Mount Kumgang resort and the Kaesong industrial park,” the South Korean agency quoted a Unification Ministry official as saying.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak ordered an emergency meeting of security ministers in connection with the attack.
Tuesday’s exchange of fire came amid large-scale military exercises in South Korea. The drills, involving some 70,000 troops, were launched Monday and are to last through November 30.
“Our army was carrying out military training, and there was a telegram from North Korea with a protest and questioning whether this was an attack,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
He did not rule out that subsequent artillery fire from the North was a response to the drills.
The attack is the second incident in the tense Yellow Sea border area this year. In March, a North Korean submarine was alleged to have torpedoed a South Korean naval ship, the Cheonan, causing the loss of 46 lives. An international investigation said the North was to blame, but the reclusive regime denied involvement.
North and South Korea remain technically at war, since no peace treaty was signed following the Korean War in 1953. The Demilitarized Zone between the countries is the most heavily armed border in the world.
The latest attack comes after the revelation that the North has created a new uranium enrichment facility.
Despite the development, South Korea will not seek the return of U.S. tactical nuclear missiles over fears that the move could scupper international efforts to persuade North Korea to halt its nuclear program, the South Korean deputy defense minister said.
“Redeploying U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea would cross the line of the denuclearization policy on the Korean Peninsula,” deputy defense minister Chang Kwang-il told Yonhap.
He added that “South Korea has had no talks with the United States over the issue.” (*)
MOSCOW, November 23