News / Asia

North Korea Tells South Korean Islanders to Evacuate

North Korea's military has warned South Koreans living on islands near disputed Yellow Sea waters to evacuate the area to avoid possibly being shelled.  Pyongyang is threatening retaliation if shells fired during the South's planned naval exercises Monday cross into the North's territorial waters.

A Sunday radio broadcast carried a message from North Korea's military with an unusual “open notice” to those residing on five South Korean-held islands: leave by nine a.m. Monday to avoid possibly being shelled.

That, according to the announcement, is when South Korea is to begin a maritime firing exercise. The notice was aired on radio broadcasts from Pyongyang and was also carried by the North's official news agency (KCNA).

The announcer, reading the statement attributed to a regional military command, says there will be an immediate and merciless counter-attack if even a “single column of water” is monitored in North Korean waters during the drill.

The broadcast says South Korea's government should not forget the lessons of November 23rd, 2010, when a fatal artillery barrage landed on Yeonpyeong island.

Seoul's semi-official Yonhap news agency quotes an unnamed official of the joint chiefs of staff as saying South Korea and the United States will proceed with a live-fire anti-submarine drill in the Yellow Sea Monday, despite the North's warning.

The official says North Korea was notified earlier Sunday of the annual routine exercise through South Korea's representative at the truce village of Panmunjom.

Analysts and U.S. military officers contacted by VOA News say North Korea's evacuation advisory to islanders is unusual. But they also note that threats of retaliation against South Korean military drills are common and not necessarily cause for any undue alarm.

North Korea also warned it will conduct a military retaliation if there are any acts of aggression during two upcoming joint U.S.-South Korean exercises, scheduled to begin February 27. South Korean and U.S. military officials have stressed those maneuvers are not a prelude to an attack, as Pyongyang has claimed.

The two Koreas have technically remained at war since 1953. That is when an armistice was signed halting a three-year civil war that involved U.S. and U.N. forces supporting the South Koreans and the Chinese military on the side of the North Koreans.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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