MB marks 10th year since skirmish

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MB marks 10th year since skirmish

At a ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of an inter-Korean naval clash near the western maritime border, President Lee Myung-bak vowed, yesterday, to respond sternly to any provocations by North Korea.

Lee was the first sitting president to attend the ceremony commemorating the naval skirmish in 2002 that killed six South Korean sailors and injured 18 others.

“As supreme commander of the armed forces, I will ensure an iron-tight defense of Korea,” Lee said during the ceremony attended by about 3,500 people, including families of the lost and injured sailors, ministers and lawmakers held at the 2nd Navy Fleet in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi. “I will firmly safeguard Korea by responding sternly to any provocations and standing up to any aggression.”

The second Yeonpyeong Naval Skirmish occurred near Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea on June 29, 2002. It was one of several skirmishes between the two Koreas on the maritime border. Two North Korean patrol ships crossed the Northern Limit Line (NLL) and as South Korean sailors tried to deter them, they opened fire. It was when South Korea and Japan co-hosted the 2002 World Cup and the entire country was in a festive mood.

“The 2002 Yeonpyeong Naval Skirmish broke out at a time when inter-Korean talks were active,” Lee said. “Back then, we might have indulged in an illusion for a moment that there would be no more war and we would see peaceful unification soon.”

“All previous provocations by the North were premeditated, not accidental, including the 2002 naval clash and the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship,” the president added.

In March 2010, the Cheonan sank off the west coast of Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea, killing 46 South Korean sailors. Eight months later, the North shelled Yeonpyeong Island.

During the ceremony yesterday, Lee read the names of the six dead sailors, including Lt. Cmdr. Yoon Young-ha, saying the country will never forget them.

“They volunteered themselves to defend the country,” Lee said.

The naval skirmish in 2002 took place during the tenure of President Kim Dae-jung’s leadership. Kim had promoted the so-called “sunshine policy” that engaged the North with economic assistance.

By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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