North Korea: We are on ‘brink of war’

(CNN) – North Korea on Wednesday blamed South Korea for driving them “to the brink of war,” a day after the North shelled a South Korean island and killed four people.
South Korea provoked the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island by holding a military drill off their shared coast in the Yellow Sea, North Korea said.

Pyongyang made the accusation through its state media, referring to a military drill that Seoul holds every year.

“The puppet group dared make an uproar over ‘a provocation’ from someone and cry out for ‘punishment’ like a thief crying ‘Stop the thief!'” the North’s KCNA news agency said.

“The Lee Myung-bak group’s treacherous and anti-reunification acts are intolerable as it vitiated the atmosphere for improving the inter-Korean relations overnight and drove the situation to the brink of war, challenging the desire of all the Koreans,” KCNA said.

The administration of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said it was consulting the United States and other allies Wednesday, following the North’s shelling.


“We have come to the judgment that what happened on Yeonpyeong Island was a definite military provocation against the Republic of Korea,” the Lee administration said.

“The fact that they have indiscriminately fired upon a defenseless civilian zone was a brutally inhumane action, an illegal and intentional action against the U.N. constitution and the armistice between the North and South Korea.”

The South said it was on high alert, but was calmly considering its actions.

“We have ordered to bring calm to the lives of people. For the deceased marines, we will give them honorable treatment and the funeral functions will be held on the coming Saturday,” the Lee administration said.

“The close cooperation between the U.S. and South Korea will be maintained and there will be special measures for the damage done to the village.”

Seoul on Wednesday announced 1 billion won ($875,583) in emergency money to repair damage wrought by Tuesday’s shelling, which killed two South Korean marines and two civilians. The attack also injured 15 South Korean soldiers and three civilians, South Korea said.

The two civilians’ bodies were found Wednesday on the coast of Yeonpyeong Island, South Korean coast guard said.

The bodies of two men in their 60s were not recognized by residents of the sparsely populated island, leading officials to believe that they were construction workers from off the island, said Song Young-gil, mayor of Incheon.

Hundreds of South Koreans continued to evacuate from the island on Wednesday. Some residents said they were too afraid to ever return. They described being terrified as North Korean shells landed in and around their homes Tuesday.

On Wednesday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that five buildings were directly hit and 22 were damaged during the attack. Photos provided by South Korean coast guard on Wednesday showed demolished and damaged homes.

The Yellow Sea is a longstanding flash point between the two Koreas. In March, 46 South Korean sailors died there when their warship was torpedoed. Seoul says Pyongyang sank the Cheonan, which the North has denied.

The United States said Wednesday that it would hold military drills with South Korea in the Yellow Sea starting on Sunday.

“This exercise is defensive in nature. While planned well before yesterday’s unprovoked artillery attack, it demonstrates the strength of the ROK-U.S. alliance and our commitment to regional stability through deterrence,” U.S. Forces Korea said.

“The USS George Washington carrier strike group will join Republic of Korea naval forces in the waters west of the Korean peninsula from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1 to conduct the next exercise in the series announced at the 2+2 meetings in July.”

The United States has about 28,500 troops deployed in South Korea. A U.S. defense official said more than 50 U.S. Navy vessels are in the area, including a carrier strike group led by the USS George Washington.

The North Korean shelling has put the entire region on edge.

On Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said, “North Korea’s artillery attack on South Korea was an attack on an area where ordinary citizens live. This is an unforgivable act of barbarism. We have been strongly condemning North Korea for this action and will continue to do so.”

“This attack created extreme anxiety not only in South Korea, but also in the East Asia region, including Japan. We must tackle this issue with close coordination with South Korea, as well as the United States. At the same time, we urge China, which holds a strong influence over North Korea, to make an effort to suppress such action by North Korea.”
China, which is North Korea’s key ally, has responded obliquely to Tuesday’s shelling.
“We have taken note of relevant reports and express our concern. Relevant facts need to be verified and we hope both parties make more contributions to the stability of the peninsula,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

Beijing sustains North Korea with food, arms and fuel. International sanctions over the North’s nuclear program have isolated the country. Its people have gone hungry as Pyongyang has poured money into its military and nuclear programs.

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