North Korea attacks border island

North Korea attacks border island

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Pillars of smoke billow from Yeonpyeong island near the border against North Korea (AP)

North Korea has fired artillery barrages on to a South Korean island near their disputed border, setting buildings alight and prompting South Korea to return fire and scramble fighter jets.

At least one South Korean marine was killed and 13 wounded – three seriously – the military said.

The skirmish came amid high tension over North Korea’s claim that it has a new uranium enrichment facility and just six weeks after North Korean leader Kim Jong Il unveiled his youngest son Kim Jong Un as his heir apparent.

YTN TV said several houses were on fire and shells were still falling on Yeonpyeong island, about 75 miles west of the coast. The station broadcast pictures of thick columns of black smoke rising from the island, which has a population of 1,200 to 1,300.

President Lee Myung-bak ordered officials to “sternly respond” to North Korea’s action but also make sure that the “situation would not escalate,” according to a presidential official. Lee was holding a security meeting in a presidential situation room, the official said.

In a message to North Korea’s armed forces, South Korea’s military urged the North to stop provocations and warned of strong measures unless the North stopped, a joint chiefs of staff official (JCS) said.

He added that dozens of rounds of artillery landed on the island and in the sea prompting South Korea to fire back.

China, which is the North’s economic and political benefactor while maintaining robust commercial ties with the South, called for calm.

“We express our concern over the situation. The situation is to be verified,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regularly scheduled media briefing in Beijing. He called on both Koreas without naming them “to do more to contribute to peace and stability on the peninsula.”

Tensions between the two Koreas have remained high since the sinking in March of a South Korean warship in which 46 sailors died. Seoul blamed a North Korean torpedo, while Pyongyang has denied any responsibility.

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