North Korea warned Friday that U.S.-South Korean plans for military maneuvers put the peninsula on the brink of war, and appeared to launch its own artillery drills within sight of an island it showered with a deadly barrage this week.
The fresh artillery blasts were especially defiant because they came as the U.S. commander in South Korea, Gen. Walter Sharp, toured the South Korean island to survey damage from Tuesday’s hail of North Korean artillery fire that killed four people.
None of the latest rounds hit the South’s territory, and U.S. military officials said Sharp did not even hear the concussions, though residents on other parts of the island panicked and ran back to the air raid shelters where they huddled earlier in the week as white smoke rose from North Korean territory.
South Korea’s response thus far:
On Thursday, the South’s president ordered reinforcements for the 4,000 troops on Yeonpyeong and four other Yellow Sea islands, as well as top-level weaponry and upgraded rules of engagement.
He also sacked Defense Minister Kim Tae-young amid intense criticism that Yeonpyeong was unprepared for the attack and that the return fire came too slowly. Lee named former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Kim Kwan-jin to the post, the president’s office announced Friday.
Lee, dressed in a black suit, visited a military hospital in Seongnam near Seoul Friday to pay his respects to the two marines killed in the North Korean attack.
Lee laid a white chrysanthemum, a traditional symbol of grief, on an altar, burned incense and bowed before framed photos of the two young men. Consoling sobbing family members, he vowed to build a stronger defense.
“I will make sure that this precious sacrifice will lay the foundation for the strong security of the Republic of Korea,” he wrote in a condolence book, according to his office.
The U.S. response? Tepid:
Gen. Walter Sharp, the top commander of US forces in Korea, toured artillery-damaged areas on Yeonpyeong just hours before the North conducted its apparent training fire exercise.
“We and the United Nations command will investigate this completely and will call on North Korea to stop any future attacks,” he said in an article by the Australian Broadcasting Corp., adding that the North had openly violated the armistice agreement signed at the conclusion of the Korean War in 1953.
I’m hoping for peace…. but showing weakness has and will lead to war.