North Korea fired at least 200 rounds of artillery shells at South Korean island Yeonpyeong yesterday, killing two South Korean marines and injuring seventeen other South Korean military personnel in what looks like the biggest escalation in hostilities since the 1953 armistice. South Korea’s military responded with 80 rounds of artillery and deployed fighter jets to counter the fire. Three civilians were also injured, with fires spreading and residents hiding in bomb shelters in nearby villages. South Korea called the attack on civilian areas “inhumane” for violating the armistice, which halted the technically ongoing war. According to South Korea, the military exchange, which lasted an hour, started during the course of its standard maritime military drill, in which shots were fired into the water toward the south, away from North Korea. North Korea claims it sent a message demanding that the drills stop. Tensions have been edging toward a breaking point since a South Korean warship went down in March, killing 46 sailors. Pyongyang denied responsibility, but Seoul is convinced it was a North Korean torpedo.
It didn’t help matters that North Korea decided to give a visiting American scientist a tour of its new uranium-enrichment facility. Surprise! Here’s where we keep the arms-grade nuclear material! The military exchange also comes just six weeks after Kim Jong Il named his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, as his heir apparent.
From an underground bunker at the presidential compound, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak asked officials to “sternly respond” but also ensure that the “situation would not escalate.” Should North Korea launched fresh attacks against the territory, Myung-bak threatened “enormous retaliation.” The U.S. has pledged its support, calling Pyongyang’s actions “belligerent.” North Korea, meanwhile, threatened to continue military strikes if South Korea moved past their disrupted sea border “even 0.001 millimeter.”
This post has been modified since its original publication to add additional information.