By Daily Mail Reporter
South Korean residents scrambled for cover today as North Korea threatened to launch a ‘sea of fire’ over military drills in the Yellow Sea with the US military.
Residents were ordered into bomb shelters as the sound of artillery fire was heard just days after two of its soldiers were killed by North Korea shells.
The tension between the two countries has escalated since North Korean artillery fire five days ago and the start of ‘war games’ in South Korea.
South Korea’s Defence Ministry has now ordered reporters to leave Yeonpyeong, saying ‘the situation is not good’ on the island following the start of the military drills.
The South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak has meanwhile warned his country to be ready for a surprise attack by the North.
His warning came as a state-run website in the North warned that the military exercises would be an ‘unpardonable provocation’ and that it would create a ‘ sea of fire’ if any of its territory was violated.
The latest explosions in the South were heard but there were no confirmations that anything had been fired. No witnesses saw explosions and there was no damage.
But the rhetoric from North Korea escalated with new warnings of a ‘merciless’ assault if further provoked and a top Chinese official made a last-minute visit to Seoul to confer with South Korean president Lee Myung-bak.
Fears of further conflict have grown since last week after South Korea’s Marine commander Lieutenant General Yoo Nak Joon vowed ‘thousand fold revenge’ at the funeral for the two dead Marines.
Washington and Seoul have urged China, North Korea’s main ally and biggest benefactor, to step in to defuse the situation amid fears of all-out war.
But a round or military drills and war games between the US and South Korea in the Yellow Sea will add to the tension in the area.
Washington insists the drills involving the nuclear-powered USS George Washington supercarrier are routine and were planned well before Tuesday’s attack.
North Korea has expressed outrage over the Yellow Sea drills and issued a fresh warning today.
‘We will launch merciless counter-military strikes against any provocative moves that infringe upon our country’s territorial waters,’ the North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in an editorial carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
The Korean peninsula remains in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 war ended in a truce, but not a peace treaty. Their border is one of the world’s most heavily fortified, guarded by troops on both sides.
The bitter trade of threats has escalated since the North’s bombardment of the island and surrounding seas on Tuesday killed four people, injured 18 and set buildings and forests ablaze.
Two South Korean soldiers were killed and a dozen injured after dozens of artillery shells were fired onto Yeonpyeong island setting more than 60 houses ablaze and sending civilians fleeing in terror.
The incident is believed to have been sparked by South Korean military exercises in the area, which the North had objected to.
North Korea said that the deaths had been regrettable and blamed them on The South using the men as a ‘human shield’ on the island.
The comments came the two dead Marines were honoured with a gun salute as families wailed and grim-faced officials saluted the funeral cortege.
‘All Marines, including Marines on service and reserve Marines, will avenge the two at any cost, keeping today’s anger and hostility in mind,’ said Lieutenant General Yoo Nak Joon, commander of the South Korean Marine Corps standing in front of a hearse lightly dusted by snow.
‘We will put our feelings of rage and animosity in our bones and take our revenge on North Korea.’
Two Marines and two civilians were killed in the attack. The funeral was followed by three separate anti-North Korea protests in the capital as a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier headed for joint manoeuvres with South Korea on Sunday, infuriating North Korea and prompting a warning from its only major ally, China.
‘It’s time for action. Time for retaliation. Let’s hit the presidential palace in Pyongyang,’ shouted close to 1,000 Marine veterans in downtown Seoul who burnt photographs of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his anointed successor, son Kim Jung-un.
North Korean reacted to it’s neighbour’s comments on the eve of the US-South Korean in the yellow sea that have enraged the North and worried China by issuing a statement through its state-controlled news agency.
North Korea’s state news agency said that although ‘it is very regrettable, if it is true, that civilian casualties occurred on Yeonpyeong island, its responsibility lies in enemies’ inhumane action of creating a ‘human shield’ by deploying civilians around artillery positions.’
The North said its enemies are ‘now working hard to dramatise ‘civilian casualties’ as part of its propaganda campaign, creating the impression that the defenceless civilians were exposed to ‘indiscriminate shelling’ all of a sudden from the North’.
South Korea is said to have been conducting artillery drills on Tuesday from the island, located just seven miles from North Korea’s mainland, but fired away from the mainland.
The North said it warned South Korea to halt the drills on the morning of the attack, as part of ‘superhuman efforts to prevent the clash to the last moment’.
The North said that Sunday’s planned US-South Korean war games showed that the United States was ‘the arch criminal who deliberately planned the incident and wire-pulled it behind the scene’.
As protesters in Seoul demanded their government take sterner action against North Korea, the North issued new warnings against the war games which have started today on US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea.
The North called the games an ‘unpardonable provocation’ and warned of retaliatory attacks creating a “sea of fire” if its own territory is violated. The comments ran on North Korea’s state-run Uriminzokkiri website a day after the North’s warnings that the peninsula was on the ‘brink of war’.
Lawmakers have blasted President Lee Myung-bak’s government for not responding strongly enough. The defence minister resigned, taking responsibility, and Kim, a career soldier, was appointed in his place.
Regional giant China has said it is determined to prevent an escalation of the violence but warned against military acts near its coast as U.S. and South Korean forces prepare for exercises in the Yellow Sea.
A North Korean website operated by the government propaganda agency said the war drills were ‘another unforgivable military provocation’.
The U.S. military said the exercises, planned long before Tuesday’s attack, were designed to deter North Korea and were not aimed at China.
The United States is sending an aircraft carrier group led by the nuclear-powered USS George Washington for the manoeuvres with South Korea.