x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

North Korea warns South over war games

Pyongyang issues warning as explosions increase tensions before start of South Korean and US naval exercises.

South Korean marines next to an anti-aircraft gun on Yeonpyeong island yesterday look towards the North.
South Korean marines next to an anti-aircraft gun on Yeonpyeong island yesterday look towards the North.

BEIJING // Pyongyang yesterday warned the Korean peninsula was "inching closer to the brink of war" as explosions increased tensions before South Korean and US naval exercises that start tomorrow.

The shots, thought to be the result of North Korean military drills, could be heard on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, which suffered a barrage of shelling from North Korea on Tuesday that left four dead.

Photographers on the island reported hearing four explosions and seeing at least one flash of light, while South Korean television reports suggested North Korea had fired up to 20 rounds, causing residents to head for air-raid shelters.

It came as American naval forces headed for the Yellow Sea for exercises that have already drawn the anger of Pyongyang.

In an article yesterday, North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency warned tensions were rising as a result of the actions of "the US imperialists and South Korean puppet war-like forces".

"The situation on the Korean peninsula is inching closer to the brink of war due to the reckless plan of those trigger-happy elements to stage again the war exercises targeted against [North Korea]", the agency said.

North Korea's army and people were said to be "now greatly enraged" and "getting fully ready to give a shower of dreadful fire".

Shortly before the explosions were heard yesterday, the US military commander in South Korea, Gen Walter Sharp, visited Yeonpyeong to witness the devastation caused earlier in the week.

Gen Sharp saw a heavily damaged street littered with charred bicycles and bottles of the Korean alcoholic drink soju. Neighbourhoods were also strewn with broken glass and household items, while stray dogs begged for food from the few dozen civilian residents who remain from the original 1,300-strong civilian population.

Workers yesterday restored communications lines damaged by Tuesday's shellfire, which killed two civilians and two marines and was mostly targeted at the island's military base.

North Korea has insisted the barrage of about 200 shells was prompted by South Korean military drills, but Pyongyang's actions have been condemned by western powers and Japan.

Yesterday, Beijing held phone talks with the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, China's foreign ministry reported, and China's foreign minister Yang Jiechi also spoke to his South Korean counterpart and met Pyongyang's ambassador to Beijing to discuss the situation.

Mr Yang urged Seoul and Pyongyang to exercise restraint and solve problems through dialogue, a ministry statement said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

"The pressing task now is to put the situation under control and prevent a recurrence of similar incidents," he said.

dbardsley@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by agencies