North Korea bombs South Korean island, fighter jets scrambled
North Korea has bombarded a South Korean island with artillery shells, injuring civilians and soldiers and setting more than 60 properties ablaze.
The attack, which comes days after it emerged that North Korea was pressing ahead with its illegal nuclear programme, marks a serious further escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsular.
South Korea officials said dozens of rounds had landed on Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea, 50 miles off the South’s northwest coast in an area close a disputed sea border. Other reports suggested as many as 200 shells were fired.
As South Korean forces returned fire, Civilians were evacuated to emergency bunkers, according witnesses quoted by the Seoul-based cable news television channel YTN. Fighter jets were scrambled and an emergency cabinet meeting was called in Seoul.
Pictures from the TV channel showed at least four plumes of smoke rising from the island which is the largest in a clutch of smaller islands, with a population of less than 2,000 people.
A South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff official, quoted anonymously by the Associated Press, said dozens of rounds of artillery landed on Yeonpyeong island and confirmed that South Korea had returned fire.
The islands were the scene of two skirmishes between the navies of North and South Korea in 1999 and 2002.
The attack comes after nearly two years of deteriorating relations between the two Koreas, which reached a nadir last March after the sinking of a South Korean corvette, the Cheonan, with the loss of 46 lives.
South Korea has since cut off almost all humanitarian aid to the North, a near bankrupt-state that has been under tight international sanctions since conducting a second nuclear bomb test in 2009 in defiance of UN agreements.
The North has also been facing a degree of political turmoil this year as their ailing leader Kim Jong-il prepares the ground for a dynastic succession that will see power being handed to his youngest son, Kim Jong-un.