China urged to act as US officials say North Korean artillery strike on South Korean island was an isolated incident.
|South Korea ordered more troops to be deployed at Yeonpyeong island following Tuesday’s shelling [AFP]|
South Korea has stepped up security near a disputed maritime border off its west coast as North Korea issued a warning it will launch more attacks if Seoul continues to make “reckless military provocations”.
Following media criticisms of an allegedly weak response, South Korea’s military said there are plans to change its “rather passive” rules of engagement, Hong Sang-Pyo, the senior South Korean public affairs secretary, said.
South Korea will also “sharply increase military forces, including ground troops, on the five islands in the Yellow Sea and allocate more of its budget toward dealing with North Korea’s asymmetrical threats”, said Hong.
The military reinforcement comes two days after the warring neighbours traded artillery fire on Tuesday over South Korea’s Yeonpyeong island close to their disputed sea border. Two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed in the incident.
North Korea on Thursday warned of additional military attacks if it is provoked further, the North’s KCNA news agency said.
“[North Korea] will wage second and even third rounds of attacks without any hesitation, if warmongers in South Korea make reckless military provocations again,” the agency said, quoting from a military statement.
The latest warning came as Pyongyang rejected a proposal by the US-led United Nations Command in South Korea for general officer-level talks to ease tension on the peninsula following an artillery attack on Tuesday.
“North Korea appears to have rejected the proposal on the ground that there’s nothing much it could gain from the talks,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency earlier quoted a Seoul government official as saying.
The US and South Korea are to hold joint military exercises next week, with the aircraft carrier USS George Washington participating in the drills.
“Over telephone talks with Secretary [of State] Hillary Clinton, we agreed that through the drill, we will be able to … send a clear message to the North in relation to the recent situation,” a South Korean foreign ministry spokesman said.
|Tuesday’s attacks on the island killed two South Korean marines and two civilians [Reuters]|
The US has said that it believes North Korea’s actions as an isolated incident tied to leadership changes in Pyongyang.
On Thursday Lee Myung-bak, the South Korean president, and security advisors held urgent meetings in Seoul to discuss the security and economic impact of the attack.
Al Jazeera’s Marga Ortigas reporting from Seoul said senior officials agreed that the government’s reaction to the North’s shelling may have been too passive and have military reinforcement on islands off the country’s west coast.
“The government received a lot of criticism on exactly how they retaliated… many groups in South Korea say it was not a strong enough a reaction to an attack on civilians,” our correspondent said.
“South Korea has decided to re-evaluate the rules of engagement and draw a distinction between attacks against South Korean military targets and civilians.”
The civilian deaths have added to anger in South Korea.
“Let me say a word about those bastards at the Blue House who advised the president to say the situation should be managed to avoid a full-blown war,” Hong Sa-duk, a South Korean ruling party representative, was quoted by the Joongang Daily as saying.
“They must all be fired for advising the president to have such a weak response.”
The South Korean foreign ministry announced on Thursday that Yang Jiechi, the Chinese foreign minister, had postponed a planned visit to Seoul this week.
It is seen as a setback for Seoul as it had planned to pursue constructive engagement with China to help rein in North Korea,
The ministry said in a statement that both countries plan to set a new date for Yang’s visit which was reportedly put on hold due to “schedule issues”.
China has said previously that it sees any joint South Korea-US exercises in the waters between the Korean peninsula and China as a threat to its security and to regional stability.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s Joongang Daily said Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, and his son and successor Jong-un, visited the artillery base from where shells were fired just hours before the attack.
The daily said father and son had met General Kim Kyok-sik, the commander of the frontline fourth corps in charge of a navy base in South Hwanghae province, just before the attack.