Tuesday, November 23, 2010

North Korean Artillery Attack on a Southern Island

AFP PHOTO - Hattip to Public Intelligence

This picture taken on November 23, 2010 by a South Korean tourist shows huge plumes of smoke rising from Yeonpyeong island in the disputed waters of the Yellow Sea on November 23, 2010


North Korea and South Korea have reportedly traded artillery fire Nov. 23 across the disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Yellow Sea to the west of the peninsula. Though details are still sketchy, South Korean news reports indicate that around 2:30 p.m. local time, North Korean artillery shells began landing in the waters around Yeonpyeongdo, one of the South Korean-controlled islands just south of the NLL. North Korea has reportedly fired as many as 200 rounds, some of which struck the island, injuring at least 10 South Korean soldiers, damaging buildings and setting fire to a mountainside. South Korea responded by firing some 80 shells of its own toward North Korea, dispatching F-16 fighter jets to the area and raising the military alert to its highest level.

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak has convened an emergency Cabinet meeting, and Seoul is determining whether to evacuate South Koreans working at inter-Korean facilities in North Korea. The barrage from North Korea was continuing at 4 p.m. Military activity appears to be ongoing at this point, and the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff are meeting on the issue. No doubt North Korea’s leadership is also convening.


While the South Korean reprisals — both artillery fire in response by self-propelled K-9 artillery and the scrambling of aircraft — thus far appear perfectly consistent with South Korean standard operating procedures, the sustained shelling of a populated island by North Korea would mark a deliberate and noteworthy escalation.

The incident comes amid renewed talk of North Korea’s nuclear program, including revelations of an active uranium-enrichment program, and amid rumors of North Korean preparations for another nuclear test. But North Korea also on Nov. 22 sent a list of delegates to Seoul for Red Cross talks with South Korea, a move reciprocated by the South, ahead of planned talks in South Korea set for Thursday. The timing of the North’s firing at Yeonpyeongdo, then, seems to contradict the other actions currently under way in inter-Korean relations. With the ongoing leadership transition in North Korea, there have been rumors of discontent within the military, and the current actions may reflect miscommunications or worse within the North’s command-and-control structure, or disagreements within the North Korean leadership.

North Korea v South Korea: Mapping Every Incident from 1958 to 2010

This is obviously not the first time this has happened - there have been over 150 incidents since the Korean War in 1950, that we know about. The reason we do know about these is because of an exhaustive report by the Congressional Research Service, published in 2007. It covers every incident, from diplomatic hostilities, through to the more serious events where people have died.

We wanted to map those events, using Google Fusion tables - and that's what you can see above. There are some hefty caveats here. Where we didn't know the precise location, we have made an educated guess, based on reports and the location details we do have. The other thing worth noting is that this was compiled in the US - a report compiled in Pyongyang would look very very different.

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