South Korea Orders Evacuation of Islands After North Korean Artillery Barrage

South Korea has ordered the evacuation of two islands near the North Korean border after North Korea fired some 200 artillery rounds into the maritime buffer zone near one of the islands.

The North Korean artillery exercise took place Friday near Yeonpyeong-do in a contested area that is a relic of the end of the Korean War. 

The red line reflects the North Korean position on the maritime border, which it articulated in 1999. According to South Korea, the United States, and the UN Command in Korea, the blue line is the border. It was created in 1953 and is called the Northern Limit Line.This event was set into motion by a North Korean ship crossing the Northern Limit Line on Monday and being turned back by South Korean troops firing warning shots. The North Koreans fired their own warning shots in response.

North Korea later said it conducted firing drills as a “natural response” to military actions by South Korea’s “military gangsters” in recent days. It also threatened an “unprecedented strong response” if Seoul continued to make provocative moves.

Even as the South Korean government ordered the evacuation of Yeonpyeong-do and Baeknyeong-do, the Korean military carried out its own artillery live fire exercise in the same waters. 

The South Koreans placed the blame squarely on the North Koreans.

This area has been a flashpoint for hostilities ever since the North Koreans unilaterally changed the border, much like Vladimir Putin decided to change the border with Ukraine.

In June 1999, North Korea began sending fishing boats escorted by North Korean surface combatants into the disputed waters to establish North Korea’s rights to them. On June 15, a brief naval battle, the First Battle of Yeonpyeong, erupted that ended with North Korea losing a torpedo boat, having five other ships damaged, and losing about 100 sailors killed or wounded.

The 2002 Second Battle of Yeonpyeong, another maritime clash involving six North Korean and two South Korean ships, ended in a draw favoring the South Koreans. One North Korean ship was sunk, and one South Korean ship was heavily damaged, with both sides 20-30 men.

The evacuation was prompted by the North Koreans shelling civilian settlements on Yeonpyeong-do in November 2010, killing two civilians and wounding three more. It was hardly a triumph of arms. Only 80 of the 170 rockets fired at the island managed to hit it. Of the 80 hits, 16 were duds.

There are two ways of looking at this incident.

It is North Korea being North Korea. The Norks are feeling a little put out these days, what with the wars in Ukraine and between Israel and Hamas sucking all the oxygen out of the media atmosphere. They conducted a recorded number of ballistic missile tests in 2023, and no one cared. Lobbing a few rounds into the ocean in the general direction of South Korea got him back on the front page.

It is part of a cascading series of events orchestrated by China to freeze the US before an invasion of Taiwan. The US Navy is engaged in the Red Sea/Arabian Sea. A major crisis in Korea would divert more US attention there. If the Israel-Hamas War turns into a regional war, then a swift Chinese attack on Taiwan might be possible without US interference.

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