SEOUL (Reuters) - There have been numerous clashes between North and South Korea near five, disputed West Sea islands over the past half a century, killing dozens of people and sinking warships.
Here is a look at how the main clashes have played out around Yeonpyeong island, which North Korea attacked last Tuesday killing four people, since 1999.[nTOE6AR029]
North Korean naval boats crossed the Northern Limit Line, which it has never recognized, on several occasions between June 7-15. The South Korean navy conducted ramming or bumping operations to force the ships back across the NLL, sinking one torpedo boat on June 15.
Fire was exchanged, sinking one and severely damaging two North Korean boats and killing at least 17 and as many as 80 North Koreans.
North Korean patrol boats allegedly crossed the NLL in the Yellow Sea and opened fire on a South Korean patrol boat. This resulted in the deaths of six South Koreans and serious injury to nine South Korean sailors and the sinking of one South Korean frigate.
A North Korean vessel also caught fire and is believed to have been destroyed. An estimated 13 North Koreans were killed.
South Korean armed forces “strengthened security preparedness.” South Korea received U.S. approval to change strategic military rules to allow its troops to strike first if threatened by intruding North Korean ships.
South Korean forces issued three verbal warnings to a ship from the North once it had crossed the NLL. The South Koreans then fired a warning shot, but when the North Korean vessel continued southward, the South Koreans opened fire. The North Koreans returned fire before heading back after their ship was damaged in the exchange.
One North Korean sailor was killed and three wounded.
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Woon-chan called the incident “accidental.”
A South Korean corvette, the Cheonan, sank in the Yellow Sea just south of the NLL near Baengnyeong Island after an explosion in the ship’s stern ripped it in two. Of the 104 South Korean sailors on board, 46 were killed.
The explosion was later determined by an international investigation to have been caused by a North Korean torpedo. North Korea denied responsibility.
As a result, all inter-Korean trade, save the Kaesung industrial complex, was severed, and North Korean merchant vessels were barred from using South Korean sea lanes.
North Korea fired around 170 artillery rounds at the island of Yeonpyeong, with less than half hitting land. The main target was the South’s garrison, but more than a dozen civilian homes were also destroyed, making it the first attack on a civilian location since the two Koreas signed a truce to ending fighting in the 1950-53 war. Two civilians and two soldiers were killed. The South fired 80 rounds in return, but it was not clear the extent of damage in the North.
Seoul ordered a full-scale review of its defense after criticism that its response was late and weak. It dispatched more troops and equipment to the islands. The defense minister quit. Most of the civilians left the island.
Six days later, the U.S. and South Korean militaries, including an aircraft carrier group, started exercises off the same coastline.
(Reporting by Jeremy Laurence, editing by Miral Fahmy)
Sources: Reuters, Globalsecurity.org., Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington