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N Korea fires artillery rounds near Yeonpyeong Island

North Korea’s military fired over 60 artillery rounds near Yeonpyeong Island today, South Korea’s military said, a day after both sides staged live-fire drills in the same area near their contested maritime border.

“North Korean forces conducted artillery fire with over 60 rounds from the northwest area of Yeonpyeong Island today,” Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

Yesterday, North Korea fired more than 200 rounds of artillery shells near Yeonpyeong and Baengnyeong, two sparsely populated islands situated just south of a de facto maritime border between the two sides.

Residents of the two islands were ordered to evacuate to shelters and ferries were suspended amid one of the most serious military escalations on the peninsula since Pyongyang fired shells at one of the islands in 2010.

Both yesterday and today, North Korea’s shells landed in a buffer zone created under a 2018 tension-reducing deal, which fell apart in November after the North launched a spy satellite.

Seoul’s military said today that “the repeated artillery fire within the prohibited hostile act zone by North Korea poses a threat to the peace on the Korean Peninsula and escalates tensions”.

They issued “a strong warning”, and urged North Korea to immediately stop such actions.

“North Korea, following its claim of the complete nullification of the ‘September 19 Military Agreement’, continues to threaten our citizens with ongoing artillery fire within the prohibited hostile act zone,” the military said.

“In response, our military will take appropriate measures to safeguard our nation,” it said.

North Korea said yesterday that its live-fire drills had not even had “an indirect effect” on the border islands.

Yeonpyeong, which has around 2,000 residents, is about 115kms (70 miles) west of Seoul. Baengnyeong, with a population of 4,900, is about 210kms west of Seoul.

In November, Seoul partially suspended the 2018 military accord to protest after Pyongyang put a spy satellite into orbit. Pyongyang then scrapped the deal completely.

Relations between the two Koreas are at one of their lowest points in decades, after the North’s leader Kim Jong Un enshrined the country’s status as a nuclear power into the constitution while test-firing several advanced inter-continental ballistic missiles.

At year-end policy meetings, Mr Kim warned of a nuclear attack on the South and called for a build-up of the country’s military arsenal, warning that conflict could “break out any time”.

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