World News

South Korea military defends response to attack

YEONPYEONG, South Korea, Nov 25 (Reuters) - A senior South Korean marine on Thursday said the 13 minutes it took to strike back after a North Korean artillery attack was no easy feat, defending the military’s action against criticism the response was too slow.

Two days after North Korea fired a barrage of artillery shells at the island of Yeonpyeong, killing two civilians and two soldiers and destroying dozens of houses, members of President Lee Myung-bak’s own party and opposition lawmakers accused the military of acting too late.

“The soldiers did not desert and in the midst of a rain of fire, they pinpointed the target and started firing which has never occurred in the past before,” Marine Colonel Joo Jong-hwa said. “They did very well.”

North Korea says it was retaliating to live fire from South Korea into its waters after warning the South by phone not to go ahead with a drill.

"North Korea argues that we fired at them first, but this is the direction that we fired," he said standing on the northern tip of the normally idyllic island of fishermen, pointing southwest, away from North Korea. A Marine company operates an anti-aircraft cannon atop a hill about 15 km (nine miles) from the North's artillery base that lobbed more than 170 shells at the island on Tuesday. North Korea has disputed the maritime border that runs just 1.5 km from the cannon bunker, and often challenged the so-called Northern Limit Line in the past 12 years, at times clashing in gunfights that have left scores of sailors dead.

Joo said there were fewer North Korean fishing boats in the waters since the artillery fight. “We believe that North Korea has still not eased its firing readiness.”

South Korea said on Thursday it would increase troops on islands near North Korea with Pyongyang warning it would follow its bombardment with more attacks if its neighbor tried any “provocations”.


Hundreds of terrified residents of Yeonpyeong fled to the mainland on Wednesday after the heaviest attack on the Korean peninsula since the end of the Korean War in 1953, many saying they would never return.

Park Sun-bi has not joined the exodus from the island of the past two days, but she feels it is time to leave.

“I’m just going to pack some things I need. Why stay here? There’s nobody here now. They’re all gone,” she said in her unlit and unheated home. “I wonder if I will ever return.”

Stray dogs walked the alley where her house was among a few that escaped the artillery bombing. Those less fortunate had their homes leveled or burned to the ground.

Yeonpyeong, a small island 120 km (75 miles) west of Seoul, was home to about 1,600 civilians and 1,000 soldiers. It lies in Yellow Sea waters claimed by the North but occupied by the South since the end of the war.

The United States and South Korea are to hold joint military exercises in the Yellow Sea from this weekend, with the aircraft carrier USS George Washington taking part. (Editing by Nick Macfie and Ron Popeski)