North Korea fired artillery rounds at a South Korean navy patrol boat, the ROKS Yoon Youngha, on Thursday evening near the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, South Korean media have reported.
North Korea launched shells near the ROK Navy PKG-711 patrol boat situated 14km from Yeonpyeong Island, though no damage to the vessel or casualties have so far been confirmed.
Ten shells were fired and five shots were fired back, Yonhap News said, adding that only two of the shells crossed the Northern Limit Line (NLL) landing approximately 150m from the vessel.
An official from the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) confirmed the patrol boat was on the South Korean side of the NLL at the time of the attack and that fire was returned before the boat retreated, Yonhap added.
Residents of the nearby Yeonpyeong island were ordered to evacuate at 6:30PM KT, with an alert siren sounding on the island from 7PM KT, TV Chosun said. Fishing boats in the area have all been ordered back to port for safety, with the JCS on stand by in case of further artillery attacks by North Korea.
“NK started shooting without notice, and we ran to the shelter after we heard the siren ringing with the announcement, “It’s not a drill,” a Yeonpyeong resident told the Chosun Ilbo.
Min Kyung-wook, a Blue House spokesperson, said that the attack was reported to President Park Geun-hye immediately. Min added that Kim Kyu-hyun, first deputy director at National Security Office, was in charge of the situation as Kim Jang-soo, former head of department, had resigned.
“Prior to the incident, Pyongyang slammed the South for firing warning shots near Korean People’s Army ships on 20 May,” said Andrea Berger, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute in London.
“It warned that any South Korean ships that recklessly maneuvered in sensitive waters would be treated similarly. This is a clear attempt to pre-emptively frame today’s skirmish as a proportional response and convince onlookers that ‘Seoul started it’,” Berger added.
But Berger wonders whether North Korea “fired ‘near’ the South Korean vessels and missed deliberately, or fired directly at the ships and missed inadvertently.
“The former is a carefully planned move designed to signal resolve, the latter is reckless and potentially escalatory. Similarly, Seoul can afford politically to let the former pass with only condemnatory words, but the latter will be much more difficult to ignore,” Berger said.
The attack comes one day after the Southwestern Front of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) issued a report via North Korean state media threatening to attack South Korean naval vessels in the area.
The KPA said that due to warning shots fired Tuesday by the South Korean navy towards North Korean vessels, all South Korean vaval vessels, “will become without exception targets of the direct sighting firing by all strike means under the above-said Command.”
The KPA said Tuesday’s warning shots were “a deliberate grave provocative act of firing bullets and shells,” adding that the North Korean vessels had been operating in the disputed area to check for illegal Chinese fishing operation.
The South Korean navy issued a response on Thursday saying that they will “mercilessly counterattack” any provocation by North Korea.
The disputed NLL became the de-facto maritime demarcation line following a unilateral decision by the United Nations Command after the signing of the armistice agreement that halted the Korean War in 1953.
The NLL has long been a flashpoint for naval altercations between the two Koreas. In 2010 there were two major clashes, with the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan, claiming the lives of 46 sailors, and the shelling of the South Korean Yeonpyeong Island, in which four South Koreans were killed and a further 16 wounded.
Picture: Flickr Commons – Jeff Head
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 632 words of this article.