North Korea Accuses South of Using Human Shields
By MARTIN FACKLER
Published: November 27, 2010
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea accused South Korea on Saturday of using civilians as human shields around military bases on an island that the North hit with an artillery attack last week.
The accusation is apparently an effort to redirect South Korean outrage over the barrage, which killed two civilian construction workers and two marines.
The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency also issued new warnings about its response to planned joint United States-South Korea naval exercises in the Yellow Sea off North Korea, which will include an American aircraft carrier.“If the U.S. brings its carrier to the West Sea of Korea at last, no one can predict the ensuing consequences,” the report said, using the Korean name for the Yellow Sea.
The drills, which are to begin Sunday, have angered both North Korea and its protector, China, stirring intense speculation in the South Korean news media of whether the North will respond violently.
On Saturday, South Korea’s prime minister and other dignitaries attended a large funeral for the two South Korean marines who were killed in the attack on Yeonpyeong Island. The commander of South Korea’s marines, Lt. Gen. Yoo Nak-joon, vowed to avenge the deaths a “thousandfold.”“We will put our feelings of rage and animosity in our bones and take our revenge on North Korea,” he said.
South Koreans have also lashed out at President Lee Myung-bak for what many here see as the military’s failure to make more than a token response to Tuesday’s attack. While the North fired some 180 artillery shells during its hourlong fusillade, Yeonpyeong Island’s marine garrison responded with only 80 shells, according to the local media.
On Thursday, President Lee announced changes in the military’s rules of engagement to make it easier for South Korea to strike back with greater force, especially if civilians are threatened.On Saturday, at least two protests were staged in Seoul that criticized both North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il, for the attack and Mr. Lee for his response.
The K.C.N.A. report said South Korea should be held responsible for the civilian deaths because it had used civilians as human shields around its artillery batteries. The South “is now working hard to dramatize the ‘civilian casualties’ as part of its propaganda campaign,” the report said.
The construction workers who died were painting buildings on a marine base when it was struck by North Korean artillery rounds, according to their co-workers. Yeonpyeong Island is dotted with concrete gun emplacements and fortified bases but also has a small fishing town on it that was populated before the 1950-53 Korean War.
The bombardment destroyed several parts of the town, leveling homes and sending panicked townspeople fleeing into bomb shelters, residents said.
It was the first attack on a civilian area since the war, and it enraged the South Koreans far more than previous provocations by the North, including its nuclear weapons tests and the sinking in March of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors. Despite the findings of an international investigation, North Korea denies responsibility for the sinking of the ship, the Cheonan.
The North has said that Tuesday’s attack was carried out in response to South Korean artillery drills earlier that day on the island, which sits within sight of the North Korean mainland. On the morning of the attack, North Korea warned South Korea not to conduct the drills, which would involve activity in disputed waters claimed by both Koreas.
Citing those warnings, North Korea said it had made “superhuman efforts to prevent the clash at the last moment.” It also offered an uncharacteristic show of remorse, calling the civilian deaths “very regrettable.”
The comments were apparently an attempt to present the North’s view of events to the South Korean public, which has reacted to Tuesday’s attack with uncharacteristic vehemence toward the North.
While South Koreans seemed to respond to past provocations with an air of resignation, this time there have been loud calls for stronger military retaliation or a permanent end to all aid to the North. Much of that aid was cut off after the sinking of the Cheonan, but last month North Korea asked the South for food and other assistance after deadly floods.
A version of this article appeared in print on November 28, 2010, on page A14 of the New York edition.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/world/asia/28korea.html?_r=1&ref=world