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(LEAD) Defense chief links N. Korea's artillery attack to its power succession

All Headlines 14:30 November 24, 2010

(ATTN: ADDS defense minister's comment on deploying more artillery on Yeonpyeong Island, details in final six paras, photo)
By Kim Deok-hyun

SEOUL, Nov. 24 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's bombardment on a populated South Korean island was probably a politically calculated provocation in part to help secure the ongoing succession of the North's leader-in-waiting, the youngest son of leader Kim Jong-il, South Korea's defense chief said Wednesday.

"Our judgment is that North Korea carried out the attack to consolidate the succession process in the country by showing off the leadership of Kim Jong-un," Defense Minister Kim Tae-young told lawmakers, referring to the communist state's heir apparent.

The North's shelling attack on Yeonpyeong Island came amid fresh fears over North Korea's claim of having a new uranium enrichment facility and just two months after a power transition in the communist regime became apparent with the debut of Kim Jong-un.

There have been concerns that North Korea could attempt to raise the prestige of its successor by making military provocations against South Korea.

"We judged that after revealing the new uranium enrichment facility on Nov. 12, North Korea made the artillery attack to give Kim Jong-un the status of a strong leader," the defense minister said during a parliament session.

The minister said his military is determined to "respond resolutely" if North Korea resumes shelling or makes any further provocations, reaffirming that Tuesday's attack was "pre-planned" and "intentional."

He said North Korea fired some 170 rounds of artillery on Tuesday, about 80 of them landing on the island. The defense ministry earlier said there were about 100 rounds.

The North's attack killed two South Korean marines, who were stationed at a military installation on the border island. Another 15 marines were wounded, five of them seriously, while at least three civilians were also hurt.

The minister confirmed South Korean and U.S. troops have upgraded their surveillance alert against North Korea as tensions were rising from the socialist state's artillery firing.

The allied troops raised their surveillance alert to Watchcon-2 from Watchcon-3 as of 3:45 p.m. on Tuesday, about an hour after the North's firing, Kim said.

During the parliament session, some lawmakers criticized the military for showing what they called hesitation in returning fire against the North's attack. It took around 13 minutes for South Korean forces on Yeonpyeong to strike back with their K-9 self-propelled guns.

But Minister Kim defended his military's response, insisting the front-line unit on Yeonpyeong had acted promptly in response within the short time, given the chain of command.

"The counter-strike after 13 minutes was possible because they were well-trained," Kim said.

The minister said he would deploy more artillery on the island.

"We have six K-9 self-propelled guns at Yeonpyeong Island and we plan to deploy more of them," Kim said.

"Also, we will replace 105-mm howitzers on Yeonpyeong with 150-mm self-propelled guns, which have a longer shooting range," Kim told lawmakers.

kdh@yna.co.kr
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