Thu. Apr 25th, 2024

North Korea heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula by firing an artillery barrage near two South Korean border islands, prompting a swift live-fire drill response from the South Korean military.

The incident led to the evacuation of residents on both islands and the suspension of ferry services. This marks one of the most serious military escalations in the region since a similar event in 2010.

South Korea’s defense ministry reported that North Korea fired “over some 200 rounds” of artillery shells near Yeonpyeong and Baengnyeong, both sparsely populated South Korean islands just south of the de facto maritime border. The shells landed in the buffer zone, established by a 2018 tension-reducing deal that collapsed in November due to North Korea’s spy satellite launch.

Seoul’s defense minister, Shin Won-sik, condemned the act as a “provocative act that threatens peace on the Korean Peninsula and escalates tensions.” In response, South Korea vowed “immediate, strong, and final retaliation” to back peace with overwhelming force.

China, North Korea’s major ally, called for restraint from all sides. Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin urged relevant parties to maintain calm, avoid actions that worsen tensions, and create conditions for meaningful dialogue.

Evacuation orders were issued for Yeonpyeong and Baengnyeong, with residents describing the move as a “preventative measure” ahead of the South Korean military drill. The order was lifted shortly after.

The recent escalation follows the nullification of the 2018 military accord in November, increasing the risk of military clashes in border areas. Analysts express concerns about the psychological and security impact of evacuations, potentially destabilizing South Korea’s economy.

The 2010 clash, triggered by a South Korean live-fire drill, resulted in North Korea bombarding Yeonpyeong island, killing four South Koreans. The exchange lasted over an hour, raising fears of a full-fledged war. Current relations between the Koreas are strained, with North Korea declaring itself a nuclear power, conducting advanced ICBM tests, and warning of a nuclear attack on the South.

In response to the latest incident, Washington deployed a nuclear-powered submarine in the South Korean port city of Busan last year and conducted joint drills with Seoul and Tokyo. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for increased missile launcher production, emphasizing the need for military preparedness. The White House accused North Korea of supplying ballistic missiles to Russia for recent attacks on Ukraine, further escalating tensions in the region.

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