North Korea is accusing South Korea of firing first, after it shot artillery at the island of Yeon-pyeong. Dozens of homes have been destroyed and a military base was hit. Two South Korean soldiers are dead, and 17 soldiers and three civilian have been injured, some of them seriously.
As many as 200 shells were aimed at the island and into the sea, close to the disputed inter-Korean maritime border. Residents from the island were evacuated to bunkers and some left by fishing boat.
South Korea is now on its highest non-wartime alert. Both the government and central bank called emergency meetings. The country’s president, Lee Myung-Bak, says he is trying to prevent the situation from escalating into a wider conflict. Nevertheless, he stated the South Korean response must be firm to what he described as ‘illegal’ and ‘provocative’ actions. The Defence Minister accused North Korea of an intentional attack, which clearly violated the armistice between the North and South. However, Pyongyang is claiming the island was hit after South Korea ignored several warnings and struck first.
Though shelling on the island has now reportedly stopped, Seoul has deployed fighter jets to its west coast.
This is one of the most serious incidents between the two countries since the Korean War in the 1950s. A few days ago, North Korea revealed it has a modern uranium enrichment plant, which means it could potentially have a second way of making nuclear weapons. The US has ruled out any more talks with the nation about de-nuclearisation, while work continues at this facility.