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S. Korea military drill marks shelling anniversary
by Staff Writers
Yeonpyeong, South Korea (AFP) Nov 22, 2012

N. Korea threatens repeat of island shelling
Yeonpyeong, South Korea (AFP) Nov 22, 2012 - North Korea has threatened to repeat its 2010 artillery attack on a border island, as South Korea prepares to mark on Friday the second anniversary of the shelling that left four dead.

The South plans to hold several commemorative events over the next few days on Yeonpyeong island near the disputed Yellow Sea border and will conduct a military drill in the area on Friday.

North Korea heaped scorn on the memorial activities, with the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Thursday quoting a military spokesman who warned of another attack on the island.

"The commemoration... on Yeonpyeong Island will lead to the second Yeonpyeong Island disaster," the spokesman said.

The November 23, 2010 shelling of the island killed two South Korean marines and two civilians in one of the most serious border incidents since the 1950-1953 Korean War.

The North said the attack was in response to a live-fire drill by the South, which, it claimed, had resulted in shells falling on its side of the sea border.

South Korean troops responded with cannon fire and the government met in an underground war room, fuelling fears that the situation could escalate into a full-scale conflict.

The de facto maritime boundary between the two Koreas -- the Northern Limit Line -- is not recognised by Pyongyang, which argues it was unilaterally drawn by the US-led United Nations forces after the war.

The North Korean spokesman said the South's plans to commemorate the anniversary of the shelling were a "ridiculous farce" that invited derision and censure.

The only regret on the North's side, he said, was that the military had not seized the opportunity two years ago "to send the whole of Yeonpyeong Island to the bottom of the sea.

"It is the steadfast will of the service personnel not to miss the opportunity to do so if the warmongers perpetrate another provocation," he added.

South Korea has stressed that Friday's military drill will not include any live-fire exercises.

Since the Yeonpyeong shelling, South Korea has upgraded its defences on frontline islands in the area.

Yeonpyeong's 1,200 residents, who live just 1.5 kilometres (one mile) from the disputed border, are now outnumbered by the marines posted there.

Last month, President Lee Myung-Bak paid a surprise visit to the island and spoke to the troops about the need to defend the maritime border "to the last man".

On a tour later Thursday of an army command post south of Seoul, Defence Minister Kim Kwan-Jin underlined concerns that Pyongyang might seek to trigger a confrontation ahead of the South's presidential election on December 19.

"North Korea could commit provocative acts in order to inject fears of war into South Koreans before the election," Kim said.

"After the election, it may provoke the South to test the new government and tame it," he said, adding that when "gangsters" attack the only way to respond was with "a large club".

South Korea marked Friday the anniversary of North Korea's 2010 shelling of a border island with a military drill and memorials, clouded by the threat of a fresh attack from Pyongyang.

The November 23 attack on Yeonpyeong island killed two South Korean marines and two civilians in one of the most serious border incidents since the 1950-1953 Korean War.

In the intervening two years, most of the islanders who fled with the intention of resettling on the mainland have returned.

But their home has changed dramatically and now bristles with new fortifications, a three-fold increase in troop numbers and the regular wail of sirens signalling another attack warning drill.

"Some say they still can't sleep well at night, can't breath well or their heartbeat gets faster when the sirens go off," local doctor Park Kil-Soon told AFP.

On Friday, the South Korean military conducted simulated and field exercises in and around the island involving the Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force, under various North Korea attack scenarios.

Defence officials stressed that no live artillery rounds were used in an apparent effort to avoid provoking Pyongyang.

A new museum was inaugurated in Yeonpyeong, featuring photos, 3D images and videos detailing the 2010 attack, and incorporating the wreckage of two shelled homes, with charred children's bicycles and other items.

In Seoul, Prime Minister Kim Hwang-Sik led a service at the city's War Memorial, during which he spoke of the "reckless brutality" displayed by the shelling.

North Korea has ridiculed the memorial activities, and its military on Thursday threatened another attack on the island, saying its only regret was not sending Yeonpyeong "to the bottom of the sea" two years ago.

"It is (our) steadfast will ... not to miss the opportunity to do so if the warmongers perpetrate another provocation," an army spokesman said.

Choi Ok-Sun, a 30-year resident who owns an inn on the island, initially moved to the mainland port city of Incheon after the shelling with the intention of starting a fresh life.

But within a year she was back on Yeonpyeong.

"Where else can you go after spending nearly all your life here?" she said.

Many were lured back by a mini-boom in the local economy, as the authorities rushed to reconstruct shattered homes and build new ones for workers, troops and their families.

"It was really scary back then and everyone was so worried about their livelihood, but now things have improved in that sense," Choi said.

The population has actually increased from 1,700 to 2,000, while the number of troops has reportedly grown from 500 to 1,500.

New buildings display patriotic murals painted by visiting artists and slogans like "Peace" and "We love Yeonpyeong," while street banners remind residents of "The unpardonable provocation! We will never forget!"

Cho Kwang-Wook, a governing county official, sees unlikely tourism potential in promoting Yeonpyeong's experience as a target of North Korean aggression.

"We hope the island will become a popular destination for those wishing to see one of the worst tragedies of our history," Cho told AFP.

"Peace cannot be achieved without strong national defence ... no other place can teach that lesson better than this island," he said.

On Thursday evening, an entertainment troupe made up of North Korean defectors gave a song and dance performance on a stage erected at a new underground bunker built after the 2010 attack.

"If the North drops the bomb on you again ... we will stay with you to defend the island. I hope that our performance will comfort you," one of the performers told the audience.

Yeonpyeong lies just 1.5 kilometres (one mile) from the disputed Yellow Sea border between the two Koreas.

The maritime boundary -- scene of bloody clashes in 1999, 2002 and 2009 -- is not recognised by Pyongyang, which argues it was unilaterally drawn by the US-led United Nations forces after the Korean war.

There are widespread concerns in Seoul that North Korea will seek to provoke a confrontation ahead of the South's presidential election on December 19.


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S. Korea to hold drill on island shelled by North
Seoul (AFP) Nov 19, 2012
South Korea will hold a military drill this week on a border island shelled by North Korea in 2010, marking the second anniversary of an attack that triggered fears of a full-scale conflict. Friday's drill will feature field and simulated exercises by marines stationed on Yeonpyeong island as well as other naval forces, a Marine Corps spokesman told AFP. "The exercise will be held... bas ... read more

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