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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 119 (August 12, 2010)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

North Korea Fires 130 Rounds of Artillery into Yellow Sea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea fired some 130 rounds of artillery on Aug. 9 near the disputed inter-Korean maritime border in the Yellow Sea in an apparent response to South Korea's recent large-scale navy drills.

   The South Korean military sent a radio message to the North demanding it stop firing or face the consequences. The South's Navy was immediately placed on alert.

   Some artillery rounds fell on the southern side of the Yellow Sea border, but there was no damage to South Korean ships in the area, according to an official for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

   The North's move came immediately after South Korea ended five-day naval exercises near the Yellow Sea border in a show of force against its communist neighbor, which it blamed for the sinking of one of its warships in March that killed 46 sailors. North Korea previously warned of "strong physical retaliations" against the drills, which it denounced as preparations for a northward invasion.

   North Korea first fired some 10 shells over a period of three minutes starting at about 5:30 p.m., according a JCS official. It then poured about 120 rounds between 5:52 p.m. and 6:14 p.m., he said.

   Three minutes into the firing, South Korean navy patrol ships warned the North Koreans by radio to stop the provocations, but the warning was ignored, the JCS official said.

   Most of the artillery shells landed on the North Korean side of the so-called Northern Limit Line (NLL) that has served as a de facto border in the Yellow Sea, but some splashed into the southern side of the maritime border.

   "Some artillery shells landed in waters south of the NLL, near Baengnyeong island," the JCS official said, referring to the South's northernmost island. "The Navy heightened its readiness posture" in the wake of the artillery firing, said the official, adding that it inflicted no damage on South Korean ships in the area.

   It wasn't immediately clear why the North fired the shells, but the JCS official said it seemed to be "part of North Korea's response to our military drills in the Yellow Sea."

   South Korea's military protested on Aug. 10 North Korea's firing of artillery shells, calling it a "grave provocative act" in violation of their armistice.

   In a message sent to the North's military, Seoul demanded Pyongyang immediately stop all provocative acts.

   The South's military said any North Korean shells falling south of the NLL would be considered an attack and that it would respond with its own artillery firing.

   South Korean officials said they did not return fire because Seoul judged that the North did not intend for the shells to land across the line. They said about 10 rounds fell on the southern side of the Yellow Sea border over the Northern Limit Line (NLL).

   The western sea is the scene of bloody gun battles between the navies of the two Koreas in 1999, 2002 and, most recently, in November of last year.

   Inter-Korean relations plunged to one of their lowest points in years after a team of multinational investigators concluded in May that North Korea was responsible for the March torpedoeing of the Cheonan warship. The North denies responsibility for the attack and has warned that any punishment against it would trigger war.

   Just a day after North Korea fired artillery shells, Pyongyang threatened to use its nuclear deterrent to show "what a real war is like" if such action is necessary.

   The Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North's ruling Workers' Party, however, stressed in an editorial that the only way to defuse military tensions between Pyongyang and Seoul is to "create a peaceful atmosphere."

   North Korea "will clearly show to those buoyed by war fever what a real war is like any time it deems necessary through a war of retaliation of its own style based on its nuclear deterrent," the paper said.

   "The most urgent issue on the Korean Peninsula, where a touch-and-go situation prevails, is to create a peaceful atmosphere," it said in the editorial carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

   North Korea has threatened "powerful physical retaliation" against South Korea's large-scale anti-submarine exercises.

   South Korea ended the navy exercises during which it tested its ability to defeat possible North Korean attacks similar to the one that led to the sinking of the Cheonan warship.

   The five-day drills off its west coast focused on improving its skills to detect and destroy North Korean submarines, seaborne infiltrations by North Korean special forces and other potential aggression.

   The exercises came less than two weeks after South Korea and the United States conducted massive joint naval and air exercises off the Korean Peninsula's east coast for similar purposes.

   For the South Korean-only exercises, some 4,500 troops from all four branches of the service were mobilized, along with the 14,000-ton Dokdo amphibious landing ship, an 1,800-ton submarine and a 4,500-ton Chungmugong Yi Sun-shin Class class destroyer, plus some 50 fighter jets, according to JCS officials.

   Responding to the North's firing of artillery shells, the U.S. urged Pyongyang to stop its "chest-thumping," warning of further isolation and continued implementation of international sanctions on the reclusive communist state for its nuclear and missile tests and other provocations.

   Speaking to reporters, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, "Certainly the firing of a very large number of rounds in the region is the last thing that we want to see and is certainly not the best way to reduce tensions."

   "It's unclear to us exactly what North Korea feels it is trying to achieve through this ongoing chest-thumping that it has engaged in," Crowley said.

   North Korea has threatened to retaliate for the exercise and for South Korean-U.S. joint military drills in the East Sea in late July, which were conducted in a show of force against the North's torpedoeing of the Cheonan.

   Washington has said it will send the nuclear supercarrier USS George Washington to the Yellow Sea for future military drills with South Korea despite strong objections from North Korea and China.

   Crowley said North Korea's provocations will lead to further isolation. "We're likely to see more provocations," he said. "There will be no reward for these provocations. North Korea will continue to be isolated. We will continue to work with the international community to fully implement Resolution 1874. We will continue to find ways, as we've talked about, to put pressure on the North Korean government to change course."

   The resolution imposing an arms embargo and economic sanctions was adopted by the U.N. Security Council early last year after the North's second nuclear test following one in 2006.

   Deputy White House Press Secretary Bill Burton also addressed North Korea's artillery barrage. "Obviously the president wants to make sure that everybody is doing what they can to make sure that region is stable and there's security for folks all over the region," he said.

   Washington says it will announce later this month a new list of North Korean entities and individuals involved in trading weapons, luxury goods, counterfeit money, cigarettes, drugs and other illegal activities banned by U.N. resolutions. The U.S. currently blacklists more than 20 North Korean entities and individuals.