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(2nd LD) N. Korea fires artillery rounds onto S. Korean island, injuries reported

All Headlines 16:10 November 23, 2010

(ATTN: UPDATES with quote, details)

SEOUL, Nov. 23 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Tuesday fired dozens of rounds of artillery toward South Korean waters and an island near the tense west sea border, the South's military said, leaving at least four South Korean soldiers wounded.

The North's artillery shells started falling in the South's waters off the island of Yeonpyeong from around 2:34 p.m., some of them landing directly on the island, said Col. Lee Bung-woo, spokesman for the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). The South's military fired back some 80 rounds, he said.

The military is on its highest peacetime alert, he said. The Air Force has deployed fighter jets to the island.

One marine was critically wounded and three others sustained minor injuries, according to Lee. It was not immediately known whether there were civilian casualties. TV footage showed plumes of smoke rising from the island. Island residents said people are being told to evacuate.

Officials said the North's shelling was intermittently continuing and that the South was also responding with return fire.

The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said it was looking into the possibility that the North's firing was in protest to an ongoing South Korean military drill on the western coast. The "Hoguk Exercise," one of South Korea's three major annual defense exercises, began Monday with some 70,000 troops participating.

The North had sent a message to Seoul denouncing the exercise earlier in the day, Cheong Wa Dae said.

The president convened an emergency meeting of security ministers and instructed the government to ensure that the situation is contained.

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


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