Korea: Artillery heard on tense Yellow Sea island

North Korea warns that US-South Korean plans for military maneuvers put peninsula on brink of war; S.Korean official says 20 blasts heard.

US Forces Korea (photo credit: AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
US Forces Korea
(photo credit: AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
YEONPYEONG ISLAND, South Korea — North Korea warned Friday that US-South Korean plans for military maneuvers put the peninsula on the brink of war, and appeared to launch its own artillery drills within earshot of an island it showered with a deadly barrage this week.
The fresh artillery blasts came just after the top US commander in South Korea, Gen. Walter Sharp, toured the country's Yeonpyeong Island in a show of solidarity with Seoul and to survey damage from Tuesday's hail of North Korean artillery fire that killed four people.
An official at the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said about 20 blasts were heard on Yeongpyeong coming from North Korea's mainland some 7 miles (11 kilometers) to the north, and that nothing landed on South Korean territory. The military official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing military policy.
Tensions have soared between the Koreas since the North's strike Tuesday destroyed large parts of this island, killing two civilians as well as two marines in a major escalation of their sporadic skirmishes along the sea border.
The attack — eight months after a torpedo sank a South Korean warship in nearby waters, killing 46 sailors — has also laid bare weaknesses in South Korea's defense 60 years after the Korean War. The incident forced South Korea's beleaguered defense minister to resign Thursday.
The heightened animosity between the Koreas is taking place as the North undergoes a delicate transition of power from leader Kim Jong Il to his young, inexperienced son Kim Jong Un, who is in his late 20s and is expected to eventually succeed his ailing father.
As Washington and Seoul pressed China to use its influence on Pyongyang to ease tensions amid concerns of all-out war, the US prepared to send a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to South Korean waters for joint military drills starting Sunday.
The North, which sees the drills as a major military provocation, unleashed its anger over the planned exercises in a dispatch earlier Friday.
"The situation on the Korean peninsula is inching closer to the brink of war," the report in the North's official Korean Central News Agency said.
A North Korean official boasted that Pyongyang's military "precisely aimed and hit the enemy artillery base" as punishment for South Korean military drills, and warned of another "shower of dreadful fire," KCNA said.
The regime does not recognize the maritime border drawn by the UN in 1953, and considers the waters around Yeonpyeong Island its territory.