North Korea threatens continued strikes on South

JUST IN: Bodies of two civilians found on island hit by North Korean artillery shells

South Korean police have found the bodies of two civilians on an island near the border with North Korea that was hit by Pyongyang's artillery shelling, police said on Wednesday.

"Two people aged in their 60s were found dead allegedly as a result of yesterday's shelling," a spokesman for Incheon police told Reuters.

DEVELOPING STORY

The UAE Foreign Ministry condemned on Tuesday the artillery shelling waged by North Korea on a South Korean island, leaving scores of injuries and damage.

In a statement issued by the ministry, Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, described the attack as an "irresponsible act" and called the concerned parties to exercise self-restrain and return to the table of dialogue and negotiations.

Sheikh Abdullah affirmed the UAE's support for the government and people of South Korea in this ordeal. He also regretted the unjustifiable escalation in the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea is threatening to continue launching strikes against South Korea if it violates their disputed sea border "even 0.001 millimeter'.

North Korea's supreme military command said on Tuesday that it would "launch merciless military retaliatory strikes."

The warning was carried by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency.

The comments followed North Korea's bombardment of a South Korean island near their disputed western border Tuesday. Two people were killed and the attack touched off widespread alarm in world capitals.
 

The United States vowed to defend its ally South Korea. In a powerfully-worded statement, the White House said the US "strongly condemns this attack and calls on North Korea to halt its belligerent action." It also urged nuclear-armed North Korea to "fully abide by the terms of the Armistice Agreement" that ended the Korean War of 1950-53.

"The United States is firmly committed to the defence of our ally, the Republic of (South) Korea, and to the maintenance of regional peace and stability," it said.

Condemnation of Pyongyang's action also came from Russia, Japan and Western Europe.

China -- North Korea's sole major ally and economic prop --, while expressing concern over the cross-border firing, appealed for stalled six-party nuclear talks to resume.

In one of the most serious border incidents since the 1950-53 war, South Korean troops fired back with cannon, the Seoul government convened in an underground war room and "multiple" air force jets scrambled.

Pyongyang, however, said South Korea fired first in Tuesday's cross-border artillery duel, which killed two marines and injured 18 soldiers or civilians on a South Korean border island.

South Korea warned North Korea it would "sternly retaliate" for any further provocations after dozens of shells were fired at a South Korean island. "Our military... will sternly retaliate against any further provocations," a presidential statement said.

"North Korea's shelling of Yeonpyeong island constitutes a clear armed provocation. Furthermore, its reckless shelling of civilian targets is unpardonable.

"North Korean authorities must take responsibility."

Military officials said the shelling killed one marine and injured 13 other soldiers. Homes on the island were set ablaze but civilian casualties were unknown.

The South has ordered its military on highest alert.

S.Korea top presidential aides are meeting in underground bunker at presidential compound.

EARLIER

South Korea says it has scrambled F-16 fighter jets and returned fire after North Korea shot dozens of rounds of artillery onto a populated South Korean island near the countries' western border.

South Korea's YTN television says several houses were on fire and that shells were still falling on Yeonpyeong island. Yonhap news agency, quoting a military official, says four soldiers are wounded. The reports couldn't be immediately verified.

YTN says that between 1,200 and 1,300 people live in the island, citing an island resident.

TV pictures showed black and white smoke rising from the island.  

Earlier, YTN also quoted an witness as saying power failure was reported on Yeonpyeong island near the border with the North after the firing, while pictures from the channel showed at least four plumes of smoke on the island.
 

STOCKMARKETS REACT

US stock futures fell on Tuesday after a  major exchange of artillery fire on the Korean peninsula.

Seoul's financial markets had already closed but  international markets reacted, with the dollar up 0.4 percent  on the day against a basket of currency. The dollar index rose from 78.77 before the reports to a  session high of 79.07. 

US 10-year Treasury futures, a traditional safe haven,  were up 0.4 per cent on the day and US S&P  500 stock index futures were down 0.9 per cent. The won tumbled in offshore markets   and the yen eased. 

European markets were seen opening mixed, with the Korean drama adding to concerns about the euro zone.

WORLD REACTION

China expresses concern over Korean peninsula fire

China expressed concern over Tuesday's exchange of fire between North and South Korea and urged the two sides to work toward peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. 

China said on Tuesday it was "imperative" that six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea's atomic ambitions be restarted, after Pyongyang's latest nuclear claims sparked international alarm.

 

Russia warns against escalation of Korean tensions

Russia on Tuesday warned against an escalation of tensions after North Korea fired artillery shells onto a South Korean border island, a foreign ministry official told Interfax.

"It's important that this does not lead to an aggravation of the situation on the Korean peninsula," the official, who was not named, told Interfax.

North Korea fired artillery shells onto a South Korean border island on Tuesday, causing casualties and prompting an exchange of fire with southern troops, officials and reports said.

The firing came after North Korea's disclosure of an apparently operational uranium enrichment programme -- a second potential way of building a nuclear bomb - which is causing serious alarm for the United States and its allies.

More:

High alert as North Korea fires artillery barrage on South

North Korea artillery firing sparks tumble
 

FACTBOX: Military forces on the Korean peninsula

 North Korea fired artillery shells at a small island in the South on Tuesday, killing two soldiers, injuring about 20 people and setting houses on fire just 120 km west of the capital Seoul.

South Korea's military returned fire and scrambled a fighter jet in response to the attack, which drew calls for restraint from Beijing, Washington and Moscow.

Following are details on the armed forces in North and South Korea:

 
TROOPS

-- North Korea has 1.19 million troops in active service, and more than 7.7m reservists. It is one of the world's most militarised countries and has a population of 23.4m.

-- South Korea has 687,000 troops on active duty, and about 4.5m reserve forces. They are reinforced by 28,000 US troops stationed in the South.


CONVENTIONAL WEAPONS

-- North Korea has some 4,100 tanks and more than 2,500 armoured personnel carriers. Much of the equipment is believed to be Soviet-era procurement and in need of upgrading. The T-54, the North's main combat tank, began to be phased out by most other countries in the 1970s.

-- North Korea also has more than 17,900 artillery pieces -- including 4,400 self propelled, 2,500 multiple rocket launchers and 7,500 mortars.

-- South Korea has 2,750 main battle tanks and 2,780 armoured personnel carriers. It has 10,470 artillery pieces including 1,089 self propelled and 3,500 towed. South Korea has 185 multiple rocket launchers.

-- Soviet-made MiGs make up the bulk of the North's 620 air combat capable aircraft. The fleet is largely obsolete and not fit for modern combat. The South has about 490 combat aircraft.

-- North Korea is believed to be steadily building its submarine fleet, with its 71 vessels outnumbering the South's dozen or so. Its 420 warships also outnumber the South's roughly 140 vessels, but the South has been adding powerful destroyers to its fleet.

-- North Korea has limited fuel supplies, and relies heavily on China for its crude oil and gasoline.


MISSILES

-- North Korea has more than 800 ballistic missiles and more than 1,000 missiles of various ranges. It has sold missiles and technology overseas, with Iran a top buyer. South Korea is limited in pursuing missile development under a treaty with the United States but has recently deployed new long-range cruise missiles with a range of 1,500 km which can hit all of North Korea and also targets in China and Russia.


NUCLEAR ARMS

-- North Korea is believed to have produced about 50 kg (110 lb) of plutonium, which experts say would be enough for six to eight nuclear weapons. North Korea's last week disclosed the existence of an ultra-modern uranium enrichment facility. The reported sighting of more than 1,000 centrifuges at its main nuclear complex appears to confirm the impoverished North, which has a plutonium-based atomic programme, is working to create a second source of arms-grade nuclear material. -- It has twice conducted nuclear tests but has yet to show that it has a working nuclear bomb.

-- South Korea, an advanced nuclear power state, does not have a nuclear arms programme, although Washington has promised protection under its "nuclear umbrella". [ID:nSEO258528]


US FORCES KOREA

-- The main frontline 2nd Infantry Division is armed with 140 M1A1 Abram battle tanks, 170 M2 Bradley Fighting vehicles, rocket launchers, tactical missiles, Patriot missile defence systems. The U.S. Air Force operates F-16 fighters, ground attack planes and three U-2 spy planes. (Reuters)

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