North and South Korea Exchange Fire, World Goes into Alert Mode

North Korea and South Korea exchanged fire last night, after the North shelled the small island of Yeonpyeong, killing two marines and injuring at least ten others, including civilians. The BBC called it one of the most serious incidents between the countries since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called the incident unforgivable. "Indiscriminate attacks on civilians are unpardonable, also in a humanitarian sense," he said in a military briefing. Lee Hong-ki, defense ministry official, also condemned the attacks, saying, "This is an intentional and planned attack... and it is clearly in violation of the armistice."

North Korea warned South Korea to stop military drills in Yeonpyeong, which is situated in disputed border waters. When the South refused, the shelling began. China, the North's economic and political benefactor, which also maintains close commercial ties to the South, appealed to both sides to remain calm and "to do more to contribute to peace and stability on the peninsula, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

Officials around the world condemned the actions.

Today, a senior Russian Foreign Ministry official called North Korea's attack unacceptable, but beseeched everyone to proceed with caution. "We think the use of force on the Korean peninsula, and in international relations in general, is a path that is absolutely unacceptable," the official told reporters on condition his name was not published. "We think any dispute between North and South Korea must be decided exclusively by diplomatic means," the official said. "Now it is important that the situation does not cross over into a military conflict."

The White House issued its own statement at 4:30 AM EST, just one hour before President Obama was woken for a debriefing. The statement echoed the Russian response for restraint and "The United States strongly condemns this attack and calls on North Korea to halt its belligerent action and to fully abide by the terms of the Armistice Agreement." Obama is expected to release his official statement shortly.

Japan, France and Australia also released statements against the strikes and calling for caution in moving forward. Even China, an ally of North Korea, called the attacks “undesirable.”

Meanwhile, an emergency UN Security Council meeting is being organized to discuss the attacks, according to a French diplomat.

Recently, the US learned that North Korea has a new uranium enrichment facility, which was recently inspected by Siegfried Hecker, a Stanford University scientist and former Los Alamos director. While he found the facility “astonishingly modern,” he doesn't believe it to be capable of anything but generating energy. (Reporters inflating the nuclear threat angle would do well to remember our old friend Hans Blix.)

Some believethe shelling is a sign that Kim Jong-Un, youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and second in command of its military, is gearing up to take over.

This report from Korean Television contains footage of some of the shelling, caught by a security tape:

AlterNet / By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

Posted at November 23, 2010, 3:45am

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