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24/11/2010 | An outbreak of hostility on a dangerous peninsula- Smoke with fire

The Economist Staff

SEOUL is on a high state of alert following the shelling of a South Korean island by North Korean forces at 2.34pm local time this afternoon. Yeonpyeong, whose administration is disputed by the North, is inhabited, and there are unconfirmed reports of civilian injuries. Scores of houses are on fire. Two South Korean soldiers were killed.

 

South Korea's response was to return fire, and scramble F-16 fighter jets to the scene, though President Lee Myung-bak also ordered South Korean forces not to escalate the situation. At the time of writing South Korean officials were engaged in a crisis meeting in an “underground bunker”, discussing their next move.

The incident is the latest in a line of military encounters at the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the de facto demarcation point at which North and South Korean waters meet. The North has always disputed the location of the NLL and the South’s control of nearby islands, such as Yeonpyeong.

The area around Yeonpyeong—disturbingly close to Incheon Airport—has been the scene of two previous skirmishes in 1999 and 2002. Few on the peninsula need reminding of this March’s sinking of the South Korean military vessel, the Cheonan—allegedly by a Northern torpedo—close to Baengnyong Island, less than ten miles from the NLL.

Today’s incident marks an escalation on the part of North Korea, because civilians were involved. So far no non-military deaths have been reported, but the sight of burning houses and plumes of smoke will be more than enough to prompt international outrage. Not that Pyongyang is concerned about that: the exchange follows the North’s flaunting of a surprisingly advanced uranium-enrichment facility this weekend which, as both US and South Korean officials are keen to point out, contravenes UN Security Council resolutions.

As ever in North Korea it is hard to know what is going through the minds of the men giving the orders. “Nobody knows exactly what they are thinking,” says an official in South Korea’s foreign ministry, “but a return to six party talks could be part of it.” This would fit in with North Korea’s apparent long-term strategy of threatening their way to the negotiating table, extracting concessions, and then repeating the process again and again. Already this week, officials from the other five countries involved have discussed resuming the talks. It may also be the case that the North Korean government believes that belligerence will help to shore up the succession of Kim Jong Il’s son, Kim Jong Un.

Much depends now on how China responds to this incident. Beijing’s continued support for its rebellious step-child may be of mutual benefit to the leaders of both states, but there surely must be a limit to how much aggression can be tolerated. In classic fashion, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman has already expressed “concern”. South Korea and America will be hoping for a little more than that in the coming days. Regardless of what happens next, today’s events are a sobering reminder that the two Koreas remain officially at war.

The Economist (Reino Unido)

 


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22/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
11/01/2009|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
23/11/2008|
23/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
22/08/2008|
22/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
24/05/2008|
24/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
29/04/2008|
11/02/2008|
05/01/2008|
09/12/2007|
18/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/09/2007|
26/08/2007|
25/08/2007|
11/07/2007|
16/06/2007|
16/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
24/04/2007|
24/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
28/02/2007|
28/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
17/11/2006|
30/09/2006|
28/07/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
06/03/2006|
21/02/2006|
17/02/2006|
31/01/2006|
10/01/2006|
28/12/2005|
31/10/2005|
26/09/2005|
29/08/2005|
11/08/2005|
08/08/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|

ver + notas
 
Center for the Study of the Presidency
Freedom House