South Korean islanders shelter after Pyongyang launches artillery shells

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Three South Korean islands evacuated residents into bomb shelters on Friday, as Pyongyang and Seoul both conducted live fire exercises close to their disputed maritime border.

North Korea fired more than 200 rounds of artillery shells into waters west of the Korean peninsula, targeting an area that had been designated a maritime buffer zone under a military agreement that collapsed last year.

“This is a provocative act that threatens peace on the Korean peninsula and escalates tensions after North Korea unilaterally insisted on destroying the Comprehensive Military Agreement,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

The South Korean military responded by conducting “corresponding” maritime live fire drills later on Friday, with local authorities issuing evacuation alerts for the Yeonpyeong island group, off the country’s west coast, as a precaution against a possible North Korean response.

The North Korean barrage followed the conclusion on Thursday of week-long joint US-South Korean military drills near the North Korean border. Pyongyang said the artillery fire was a response to the actions by the “gangster” South Korean military, according to North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency.

GM060116_24X Yeonpyeong island_MAP

The inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) was a package of confidence-building measures agreed in 2018 to reduce tensions along the historic foes’ shared border.

But Pyongyang announced it was scrapping the agreement in November, after Seoul partially suspended some of the pact’s provisions in protest against North Korea’s first successful launch of a military spy satellite.

The Yeonpyeong area was the site of a North Korean shelling in 2010 that killed two civilians and two marines, in one of the deadliest attacks since the armistice that ended the Korean war in 1953.

Jeongmin Kim, an analyst at Seoul-based information service NK Pro, said the demise of the CMA and intensifying threats from the leadership of both countries made a confrontation more likely.

Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un renounced his country’s longstanding policy of pursuing unification with the South, arguing that reconciliation was “impossible”.

He added that North Korea’s armed forces should make preparations “for a great event to suppress the whole territory of South Korea”.

The bellicose rhetoric followed South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol late last month ordering his troops to “immediately retaliate in response and report it later” in the event of an enemy attack.

“We should smash the enemy’s desire for provocations immediately on the ground,” Yoon told soldiers at a meeting near the inter-Korean border.

“By dropping North Korea’s formal commitment to reconciliation with the South, Kim Jong Un is giving himself an ideological justification for more confrontation,” said Jeongmin Kim.

“The more confrontation there is, the higher the likelihood of accidents, miscalculations or a disproportionate response from either side leading to further escalation.”

First appeared on www.ft.com

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