North Korea has accused South Korea of using civilians as human shields around artillery positions on an island attacked by the North, seeking to justify a bombardment that killed four South Koreans and sent tensions soaring.
The comments came on the eve of US-South Korean war games in the Yellow Sea that have enraged the North and worried neighbouring China, and after the South Korean marine commander vowed revenge at a funeral for two marines killed in the barrage.
Tuesday’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island, which houses military bases and tiny fishing communities, also killed two civilians in one of the worst artillery attacks on South Korean territory since the 1950-53 Korean War.
North Korea’s state news agency said that although “it is very regrettable, if it is true, that civilian casualties occurred on Yeonpyeong island, its responsibility lies in enemies’ inhumane action of creating a ‘human shield’ by deploying civilians around artillery positions.”
South Korea was conducting artillery drills on Tuesday from the island, located just seven miles from North Korea’s mainland, but fired away from the mainland.
The North said it warned South Korea to halt the drills on the morning of the attack, as part of “superhuman efforts to prevent the clash to the last moment”.
The North said that Sunday’s planned US-South Korean war games showed that the United States was “the arch criminal who deliberately planned the incident and wire-pulled it behind the scene”.
The South Korean commander, Major General You Nak-jun, said the South’s retaliation would be a “thousand-fold” as dignitaries and relatives laid white flowers at an altar during the funeral.
As protesters in Seoul demanded their government take sterner action against North Korea, the North issued new warnings against the war games scheduled to start on Sunday with a US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea.
The North called the games an “unpardonable provocation” and warned of retaliatory attacks creating a “sea of fire” if its own territory is violated. The comments ran on North Korea’s state-run Uriminzokkiri website a day after the North’s warnings that the peninsula was on the “brink of war”.