North Korea on Thursday said the United States and Seoul were to blame for its shelling of a South Korean island in November, which left four people dead and further raised tensions on the peninsula. The North’s military fired in response to South Korean drills in the waters around the island of Yeonpyeong, near the disputed maritime border, a report carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency said.
South Korean forces had carried out “direct shelling under the pretext of a military exercise,” a report by the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said, quoted by the South’s Yonhap News Agency. “This reckless act was obviously a deliberate provocation to prompt the DPRK to take a military counter-action,” the report said, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Pyongyang’s response shelling of the island on November 23 left two soldiers and two civilians dead and injured 18 people.
Since the incident, the U.S. and South Korean navies have intensified their drills around the peninsula. Washington, Seoul and Japan have also held high-level diplomatic and military talks in recent weeks about how to address North Korea’s increasing belligerence. North Korea claims Yeonpyeong as part of its territory, saying that the maritime border was unilaterally drawn up by the U.S. after the ceasefire which ended the 1950-53 Korean War. Seoul argues that the North recognized the line in a 1992 agreement. The U.S., which has nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea, is a formal ally of the country since a 1954 mutual defence agreement, following its support of South Korea during the conflict against the North. In the absence of a formal peace treaty, the two Koreas remain technically at war.