Civilian deaths prompt calls for South Korea to retaliate

North Korea claims its bombardment was targeted only at army base after provocation from neighbour's military drills

South Korea's leadership was under growing political pressure last night for a military response against its belligerent neighbour, after the bodies of two civilians killed in Tuesday's shelling by North Korean forces were found on the island of Yeonpyeong.

Local media said the charred corpses of two construction workers were uncovered amongst rubble on the island in the Yellow Sea, north-west of the South's capital, Seoul. The bombardment also killed two marines, injured at least 18 people and sent many of Yeonpyeong's population fleeing for cover.

Civilians streaming to the mainland from the island yesterday described how shells rained down, hitting homes and shops and setting local mountains on fire.

"It was like the end of the world," one woman told South Korean television. The North has yet to reveal casualties on its side of the border.

Pyongyang said it was targeted first during "provocative" South Korean military drills and that it was aiming at an army base. Yesterday the North's state-run KCNA news agency said that Seoul had driven both sides to "the brink of war" and compared its demands for "punishment" to a thief crying "stop the thief".

The tense stand-off and war of words is likely to intensify in the coming days, ahead of a three-day joint South Korea-US military drill slated to start on Sunday in seas near the disputed North-South border. Washington sent the nuclear-powered USS George Washington aircraft carrier steaming for the South from Japan yesterday. The carrier will join a fleet of US ships in the area, including two destroyers.

The White House said that the drill had been planned in advance, but President Barack Obama reportedly moved the date forward after discussions with South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak. Washington said yesterday that the drill would "underscore the strength of our Alliance and commitment to peace and security in the region".

President Lee is receiving heavy flak from opposition politicians for his initially hesitant response to what is widely viewed as North Korean aggression. "There should have been an intense counter-attack by fighters on the North's coastal batteries," Kim Jang-su, a former minister of National Defence, said in parliament yesterday. Some hawks are clamouring for a military strike.

Many South Koreans, who have grown used to occasional skirmishes across the heavily militarised zone that divides the Korean Peninsula, are furious that the North apparently deliberately shelled a populated area. "Time for retaliation," said the daily JoongAng Ilbo newspaper. Another newspaper denounced the attack as a "war crime" launched at the instigation of the North's ailing leader Kim Jong-il. "The Seoul government can hardly afford to negotiate with Pyongyang after it bombarded residential areas," said the Dong-A Ilbo. "This incident has demonstrated yet again how dangerous and meaningless dialogue and negotiations are in trying to change Pyongyang."

But President Lee's options are limited, short of military action that could quickly escalate into full-scale war against its nuclear-armed neighbour. Seoul had already cut off most cross-border ties and imposed punishing sanctions on Pyongyang after the sinking of the South Korean Cheonan warship earlier this year, widely blamed on the North. Some were already predicting that the skirmish will go down in history as just one of the occasional bloody episodes staged by the North Koreans.

"This is one of our many dilemmas," said Lee Jong-min, a dean at Yonsei University. "We are so used to living with the North Korean threat and just say, 'Those North Koreans are crazy'." That response, he said, was in itself crazy considering that the attack was "the first time they've shot at Korean territory since the Korean War".

President Lee's difficult position was underlined yesterday by conflicting reports about his office's initial response to the shelling. Shortly after the attack began, he reportedly said that the South's military should "carefully manage the situation" to prevent an escalation. But after criticism of the response from opposition lawmakers, President Lee's office said he had ordered jets to strike a North Korean missile base, The Korea Herald reported.

Many Koreans had put their hopes in the so-called Sunshine Policy of reconciliation between the two Cold War enemies when Kim Dae-jung was president of the South from 1998 to 2003. He not only met North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, but agreed on a wide range of cultural and commercial ties.

Mr Kim's successor, Roh Moo-hyun, continued with the policy until stepping down in February 2008 when he was replaced by the conservative Mr Lee, who has since taken a much harder line.

In that era, one newspaper noted, "any unintended clashes" would "immediately set in motion channels for emergency dialogue." This time, the paper said, "there was no senior-level emergency communication." That explained "why this incident warrants more serious concern. "

President Lee's office has rejected the North's claims that the South's military provoked Tuesday's exchange. "We have come to the judgment that what happened on Yeonpyeong Island was a definite military provocation against the Republic of Korea," it said. Military forces across the South are still on high alert as the people of Seoul, just south of the border, wonder what will come next.

Who calls the shots in North Korea?

Kim Jong-il

Purposefully shrouded in an overwhelming air of mystery, the leader of North Korea holds ultimate power over the nation's political and military strategy. Weakened by ill health, the 69-year-old is believed to be grooming his son Kim Jong-un as his successor.

Kim Jong-un

Third son and political heir apparent to Kim Jong-il, 27-year-old Kim Jong-un's political might has risen sharply in the last six months. Recent inflammatory events are thought to be Kim Jong-il's efforts to prove his son's worth and therefore ensure he succeeds as leader.

Jang Song-Thaek

Widely believed to be the key challenger to Kim Jong-un's succession, Kim Jong-il's 64-year-old brother-in-law is vice chairman of the country's National Defence Commission and is thought to be the leader's deputy. Unlike Jong-un, he is a long-standing political force.

Ri Yong-ho

Chief of staff for the People's Army and vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party, Ri Yong-ho is reported to have been second in of command for the attack on South Korea earlier this week, as is Kim Jong-un.

Enjoli Liston

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

Front-End UI/UX Developer (HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Ang

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End UI/U...

C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition