/ 28 January 2010

North Korea fires artillery for second day

North Korea fired artillery shells into the sea near its tense disputed border with South Korea for a second day on Thursday, ignoring United States appeals to halt the “provocative” exercise.

The shells from shore batteries landed near South Korea’s Yeonpyeong island at 8.15am local time, the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, but none fell in South Korean waters.

On Wednesday, the North fired more than 80 shells into the sea close to the flashpoint frontier, Seoul’s military said. South Korean Marines fired 100 warning shots in response that day.

No one was hurt but the incident fuelled tensions on the peninsula.

The firing, which the North describes as a routine military drill, began one day after it declared two “no sail” zones near the west coast border.

The North refuses to recognise the borderline drawn by United Nations forces after the 1950 to 1953 Korean War and demands it run further to the south.

The area was the scene of deadly naval battles in 1999 and 2002. In the latest naval clash last November, a firefight left a North Korean patrol boat in flames.

Washington called the North’s shelling “provocative”, echoing an earlier protest from Seoul to its neighbour.

“The declaration by North Korea of a no-sail zone and the live firing of artillery are provocative actions and as such are not helpful,” State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley said on Wednesday.

South Korea’s military said it had information the drill would continue into Friday.

Analysts said the North is raising tensions to show that a peace pact on the peninsula is necessary. Pyongyang wants talks with the United States on a formal treaty to end the 1950s war as a condition for returning to nuclear disarmament negotiations.

US President Barack Obama warned the North it faces growing isolation unless it abandons its nuclear weapons.

“North Korea now faces increased isolation, and stronger sanctions — sanctions that are being vigorously enforced,” he said in his annual State of the Union address to Congress.

Even though Pyongyang refuses to recognise the borderline, all its shells so far have landed north of it.

Chosun Ilbo newspaper said the Seoul government has decided to suspend talks with the North on economic cooperation if shells land south of the border known as the Northern Limit Line (NLL).

“North Koreans firing shells into southern waters across the NLL would be tantamount to a grave provocation,” it quoted an unidentified official as saying. “Inter-Korean talks would be hardly held as scheduled.” — AFP