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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 238 (Nov. 29, 2012)

Koreas Mark Yeonpyeong Island Shelling Anniversary In Respective Styles

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- On the second anniversary of North Korea's deadly shelling of the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong in the West Sea, the South condemned the "worst provocation by North Korea" since the Korean War while the North made fresh threats of another shelling.

   About 4,000 South Koreans, including bereaved family members, government officials and Navy officers, gathered at the War Memorial in Seoul on Friday to pay tribute to those killed in the unprovoked attack. Two marine and two civilians were killed on Nov. 23, 2010 when North Korea lobbed 170 rounds of artillery at the front-line island.

   In a condolence address, Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik said the attack was a clear reminder that the country is "still at war," and vowed to deter any further provocations by the North.

   "The Yeonpyeong shelling is the worst provocation by North Korea since the two sides signed a truce in 1953," Kim said. "It was a violent act that directly attacked our territory, and reckless brutality that did not discriminate between soldiers and civilians."

   His remarks were in line with President Lee Myung-bak's unprecedented visit to the front-line island last month, during which he said his military would launch a counterattack if there was another provocation.

   "The government's determination is stronger than ever," Kim said. "President Lee's visit to Yeonpyeong Island last month was an expression of such determination."

   A similar event was held on the island. In his condolence message South Korea's Home Minister Maeng Hyung-kyu strongly denounced North Korea's provocation two years ago. "North Korea's indiscriminate attack on civilians was an inhumane crime and an act of pouring cold water on the ardent hope of the Korean people and the international community for peace on the Korean Peninsula."

   South Korean Marines who serve on the island vowed a stinging counterstrike on the communist nation if it launched such attacks again, honoring the courage their colleagues showed while fighting back.

   The shelling of Yeonpyeong Island was the first attack on South Korean soil since the end of combat in the 1950-53 Korean War.

   Despite the loss of four lives, the Marines believe they won the battle because they fired dozens of shots back at North Korean artillery bases just minutes after first being hit. The extent of damage in North Korea has never been confirmed, though the North denies any casualties on its side.

   On the same day, North Korea held a joint meeting of service personnel and people at Phyonghwa Seaside Culture Farm of South Hwanghae Province near Yeonpyeong Island to commemorate their "victory" two years ago, the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

   "On Nov. 23, 2010, the heroic (North) Korean People's Army (KPA) fired retaliatory shells at the South Korean warmongers who preempted fire at the North, giving them bitter defeat nearly 60 years after the Korean War."

   Present at the joint meeting were Pyon In-son, commander of the 4th Corps of the KPA; Choe Jong-ryong, chairman of the South Hwanghae Provincial People's Committee; service personnel and officials, residents, youth and students of Kangryong County.

   "The victorious shelling was a historic event that demonstrated the spirit, mettle and invincible might of the KPA, which has been trained into an elite matchless army under the care of Generalissimo Kim Jong-il and Marshal Kim Jong-un," the KCNA quoted speakers of congratulatory speeches as saying.

   On the same day a propaganda mouthpiece for North Korea's ruling party, Rodong Sinmun, carried an editorial that claimed the North won the battle in a "victory of justice" and its military would "never miss the chance" to attack if the South provokes it.

   The North has claimed the artillery bombardment was in self-defense against a live-fire drill by the South, which, it claimed, resulted in shells falling on its side of the sea border.

   To show its resolution against any future North Korean provocations in the West Sea, South Korea later in the day conducted simulated and field drills on western border islands under various scenarios of North Korean attacks, mobilizing F-15K fighter jets equipped with air-to-surface missiles and joint direct attack munitions, as well as early warning aircraft and naval destroyers.

   The maneuvers involved the Marine Corps, the Navy and the Air Force, but did not include live-fire artillery exercises, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

   The drill started at 2:33 p.m., the time when the North first fired dozens of rounds on the island two years ago, and ended at 5 p.m., the JCS said.

   North Korea's Rodong Sinmun said on Tuesday the South's military drills show the "dangerous phase" that the South's efforts to "escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula and ignite a war" against the North have reached.

   "The counter-measure of the KPA was just what reduced Yonphyong Island to a sea of flames, a due punishment meted out to provocateurs," the paper said, using the North Korean spelling of Yeonpyeong.

   Rodong Sinmun further said, "What merits serious attention is that the recent war maneuvers were dangerous war exercises simulating an all-out war, not just a drill to retaliate against the DPRK's 'provocation.'"

   Many troops of the two Koreas are stationed near the western sea border, known as the Northern Limit Line or NLL. Pyongyang does not recognize the line and demands it be drawn farther south.