S Korea orders islanders into bunkers

2010-12-20 07:33

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Yeonpyeong Island - South Korea ordered residents of front-line islands into bomb shelters as it insisted on pressing forward with live-fire drills near disputed waters on Monday despite North Korea's threat to retaliate, sharply spiking tensions.

UN diplomats meeting in New York failed to find any solution to ease fears of a new war on the Korean peninsula, nearly a month after the North shelled South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island in retaliation for earlier artillery exercises there. The North has said it would respond even more harshly to any new drills from the Yellow Sea island.

South Korea's move to launch new drills from Yeonpyeong brought tensions to their highest point since the North's November 23 bombardment, which killed two South Korean marines and two civilians in the North's first attack targeting civilian areas since the 1950-53 Korean War.

South Korean marines on Yeonpyeong, a tiny enclave of fishing communities and military bases within sight of North Korean shores, were to conduct the live-fire drills from the island later on Monday, although the exact timing will depend on weather conditions, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defence Ministry said.

However, a dense fog hung over the island, and the drills likely would be delayed until Tuesday if the weather conditions did not improve, a South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff officer said. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.

Residents, local officials and journalists on Yeonpyeong and four other islands were ordered to evacuate to underground shelters because of possible attacks by North Korea, Ongjin County government spokesperson Won Ji-young said.

'Tangled' emotions

In South Korea's Gyeonggi Province near the capital, 42 residents of farming communities near the tense land border were evacuated and were to stay in an area farther south until after the drills are finished, a provincial official said. The official refused to give his name because he wasn't authorised to speak to the media.

It wasn't immediately known whether other front-line villagers were ordered to move south.

On Yeonpyeong, residents filed into an underground shelter after authorities announced the drill and huddled on the floor as a South Korean soldier showed them how to use a gas mask, according to footage shot by Associated Press Television News.

"I feel the same as last November 23, when North Korea fired artillery at us," said Oh Gui-nam, a 70-year-old island resident. "My emotions are all tangled up."

South Korea's military will "immediately and sternly" deal with any North Korean provocation, a Joint Chiefs of Staff officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.

- AP
Read more on:    south korea  |  north korea
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