South Korea condemns move as ‘act of provocation that escalates tension and threatens peace on the Korean peninsula’.
North Korea has fired more than 200 rounds of artillery shells into the sea near a tense maritime border and towards two South Korean islands, which Seoul called “an act of provocation”.
On Friday, residents on the islands of Yeonpyeong and Baengnyeong were ordered to seek shelter due to an unspecified “situation”.
South Korea’s military said the firing caused no civilian or military damage, adding that all the shells landed on the northern side of the sea border.
“This is an act of provocation that escalates tension and threatens peace on the Korean peninsula,” said Lee Sung-joon, a spokesperson for the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The defence ministry in Seoul said: “We sternly warn that North Korea bears full responsibility for this escalating crisis and strongly urge them to immediately cease these actions.
“Our military closely tracks and monitors the situation in close coordination with the United States, and will take appropriate measures in response to North Korea’s provocations,” the ministry statement added.
However, the defence ministry was yet to confirm whether the evacuation order was a response to Pyongyang’s artillery fire or Seoul’s military drills.
An official on Yeonpyeong island, which sits just south of the disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL) sea border, residents were told to move into bomb shelters on the island at the request of the South Korean military.
A text message sent to residents and confirmed by an island official cited “naval fire” to be conducted by South Korean troops from 3pm (06:00 GMT) on Friday.
The South Korean military informed the affected village that there was sea firing by their own military following “a situation” near the border.
Residents of Baengnyeong island, located to the west of Yeonpyeong and in proximity to the sea border, were also directed to evacuate, as confirmed by a village official.
Since the 1990s, Pyongyang has disputed the NLL – drawn up at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War – arguing it should lie far to the south.
In 2010, the North Korean artillery targeted Yeonpyeong island, resulting in casualties, including civilians. Pyongyang asserted it was provoked by Seoul’s live-fire drills that dropped shells into its territorial waters.
China calls for ‘restraint’
“Under the current situation, we hope that all relevant parties maintain calm and restraint, refrain from taking actions that aggravate tensions, avoid further escalation of the situation, and create conditions for the resumption of meaningful dialogue,” China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters on Friday.
“Confrontations between relevant parties have intensified recently, and the situation on the peninsula continues to be tense,” Wang said.
This week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his military to “thoroughly annihilate” South Korea and the United States if they initiate a military confrontation in another round of bellicose rhetoric targeting Seoul and Washington.
The relationship between the two Koreas has been at its lowest point in decades of strained relations between the neighbouring countries.
North Korea has recently ramped up its nuclear and military threats, successfully launching a reconnaissance satellite on its third attempt in November and earlier this month testing the solid-fuel Hwasong-18, its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), for the third time in 2023.