WBUR

North, South Korea Skirmish Near Disputed Border

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired artillery barrages onto a South Korean island near their disputed border Tuesday, setting buildings alight and prompting South Korea to return fire and scramble fighter jets. At least one South Korean marine was killed and 13 wounded, the military said.

The skirmish came amid high tension over North Korea’s claim that it has a new uranium enrichment facility and just six weeks after North Korean leader Kim Jong Il unveiled his youngest son Kim Jong Un as his heir apparent.

One South Korean marine was killed, three were seriously wounded and 10 slightly wounded, a Joint Chiefs of Staff official said.

YTN TV said several houses were on fire and shells were still falling on Yeonpyeong island, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) west of the coast. The station broadcast pictures of thick columns of black smoke rising from the island, which has a population of 1,200 to 1,300.

President Lee Myung-bak ordered officials to “sternly respond” to North Korea’s action but also called on officials to make sure that the “situation would not escalate,” according to a presidential official. He asked not to be identified, citing the issue’s sensitivity.

Lee was holding a security meeting in a presidential situation room, the official said.

In a message to North Korea’s armed forces, South Korea’s military urged the North to stop provocations and warned of strong measures unless the North stopped, another Joint Chiefs of Staff official said.

The JCS official said dozens of rounds of artillery landed on the island and in the sea. The official said South Korea fired back. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of JCS rules, said South Korea’s military is on alert. He could not confirm the reports of casualties.

Tensions between the two Koreas have remained high since the sinking in March of a South Korean warship in which 46 sailors died. Seoul blamed a North Korean torpedo, while Pyongyang has denied any responsibility.

North Korea’s actions “are illegal and a violation of the 1953 armistice agreement” that ended the Korean War, the JCS official said.

South Korea responded by firing K-9 155mm self-propelled howitzer, but the JCS official declined to say whether North Korean territory was hit by the South Korean artillery.

JCS said island residents are escaping to about 20 shelters in the island.

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