Lee warns Pyongyang of retaliation for another attack

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Lee warns Pyongyang of retaliation for another attack


Defense Minister Kim Tae-young, second from right, briefs President Lee Myung-bak, second from left, on North Korea’s attacks on Yeonpyeong Island yesterday at the Blue House. Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, left, and Unification Minister Hyun In-taek, right, also attended the meeting. Provided by the Blue House

The South Korean government warned North Korea of stern retaliation for any further provocations, after the communist regime shelled a populated island near the inter-Korean border yesterday.

“The North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island is an undeniable provocation against South Korea,” said the Lee Myung-bak administration in an official statement announced by Hong Sang-pyo, senior presidential secretary for public affairs. “We will never tolerate the North’s indiscriminate attack on civilians.”

“The South Korean military immediately countered the North’s provocation according to the rules of engagement,” Hong said. “We will retaliate if the North stages additional provocations.”

Seoul also said North Korean authorities must assume responsibility for the situation. Shortly after the North’s attack began yesterday afternoon, President Lee Myung-bak convened an emergency meeting with his security ministers and secretaries and ordered stern measures. According to the Blue House, the emergency meeting was held in the underground bunker of the presidential compound shortly after the incident was reported. A video conference also took place between the president and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Han Min-koo.

The senior secretariat meeting opened at 3:20 p.m., and the security ministers’ meeting began an hour later. “The Joint Chiefs of Staff briefed the president on its assessment that the situation was a provocation by the North to challenge the ongoing Hoguk military exercise,” Park Jeong-ha, head of the Blue House press center Chunchugwan, said. “An urgent message was sent to the North to contain the situation.”

Kim Hee-jung, presidential spokeswoman, said the North had earlier complained about the military drill, calling it a rehearsal for an invasion of the North. “We are checking whether the situation is linked to it or not,” said Kim. “But the Hoguk exercise is a routine, annual drill.”

Lee also ordered the best and swiftest treatment for the casualties of the shelling, Park said, adding that injured soldiers were being transferred off the island for medical treatment. Lee was also told the evacuation of civilians from the island had been completed, he said. All civil servants were ordered to assume emergency readiness at the order of Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik. South Korea’s ally, the United States, quickly condemned the North for shelling the island. In a statement released before dawn Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs calls on North Korea to “halt its belligerent action” and assured that the U.S. is “firmly committed” to the South’s defense.

The National Assembly stopped its legislative deliberations, and cabinet members who were at budget discussions went to the Blue House shortly after the incident. Asked if a war would break out, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young replied, “Didn’t it start already? We must stop it from expanding.”

Shortly after the attack began, the president was quoted as saying that every possible measure should be taken to “prevent the situation from escalating into a full-blown war.” The Blue House later retracted the remarks.

The ruling and opposition parties condemned the North’s deadly attack. “It is impossible to hold our rage toward the North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island,” said Grand National Party spokesman Ahn Hyoung-hwan. “North Korea must be held accountable for all the losses.”

“Right now, national security is the top priority,” said Ahn. “A political fight with the Democrats has no meaning. We urge the opposition parties’ cooperation.”

The Democratic Party also showed serious concern about the situation. “North Korea must stop all provocation that threaten the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula,” said DP Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu. “We urge the two Koreas to begin talks to prevent the situation from worsening.”

The Democratic Party also suspended its rally at Seoul Plaza to demand additional probes into the Lee administration’s alleged power abuse and spying on civilians. “It is the party leadership’s judgment that a political fight in the middle of a national security crisis is inappropriate,” said DP spokeswoman Cha Young.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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