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(3rd LD) N. Korea fires artillery onto S. Korean island; one soldier killed

All Headlines 17:01 November 23, 2010

(ATTN: UPDATES with casualties in first two paras; ADDS President Lee's quote, details in paras 7-11)

SEOUL, Nov. 23 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Tuesday fired a barrage of artillery rounds toward South Korean waters and an island near the tense west sea border, killing one South Korean marine and leaving at least 13 others wounded.

The North's artillery shells started falling in the South's waters off the island of Yeonpyeong 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 entire military was immediately put on its highest peacetime alert, he said, noting that the Air Force has deployed fighter jets to the island.

TV footage showed plumes of smoke rising from the island. Island residents said people are being told to evacuate. A spokesman for Incheon City, the administrative district of Yeonpyeong Island, said four civilians were reportedly injured from the North's firing. Fire is spreading on a mountain on the island, some homes are still burning, and the island is in virtual blackout from the power outage, he said.

JCS officials said the South's military sent a telephone message to North Korea urging the North to stop the shelling.

JCS Chairman Han Min-koo and Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of some 28,500 U.S. troops in the South, held telephone talks and agreed to consider declaring a "joint crisis management," the JCS spokesman said.

President Lee Myung-bak told his aides to take measures to prevent the North's artillery fire from escalating into a conflict.

"(We) should carefully manage the situation to prevent the escalation of the clash," Lee was quoted as saying by his spokesman before presiding over an emergency meeting of security-related ministers at an underground bunker of the presidential office.

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

The JCS dismissed the connection, saying the North's artillery fell well south of Tuesday's drill location.

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.

kdh@yna.co.kr
(END)

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