South Korean defense minister Kim Tae-young (pictured) has said he will step down from his post in the wake of a North Korean artillery attack on Tuesday that killed two civilians and which critics say Seoul was ill prepared for.
AP - South Korea’s defense minister resigned Thursday amid intense criticism two days after a North Korean artillery attack killed four people on a small island near the Koreas’ disputed frontier.
The move came as President Lee Myung-bak vowed to send more troops to the front-line South Korean island and as residents tried to salvage belongings from the blackened wreckage of their homes. Pyongyang warned of additional attacks if provoked.
Hours before Defense Minister Kim Tae-young’s resignation, lawmakers had lashed out at the government, claiming officials were unprepared for Tuesday’s attack and that the military response to the North’s barrage was too slow. Even those in Lee’s ruling party demanded Kim’s dismissal as well as those of military leaders and some presidential aides.
Lee accepted Kim’s resignation and a new defense chief will be announced Friday, presidential chief of staff Yim Tae-hee said.
Skirmishes between the Korean militaries are not uncommon, but North Korea’s heavy bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island was the first on a civilian area, raising fears of an escalation that could lead to a new war on the Korean peninsula. South Korean troops had returned fire and scrambled fighter jets in response.
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Seoul and Washington ratcheted up pressure on China to rein in its ally North Korea, and China on Thursday urged both sides to show restraint.
Reporters allowed for the first time onto the island found streets strewn with broken glass and charred debris. Blackened beer bottles lay beside what was left of a supermarket as coast guard officers patrolled in pairs past deserted offices and schools used by relief workers for meetings and meals.
Many residents fled as quickly as they could, but restaurant owner Lee In-ku, 46, joined a handful of villagers trying to salvage belongings from half-destroyed homes.
“It was a sea of fire,” Lee said of Tuesday’s attack. “Many houses were burning and many people were just running around in confusion. It was real chaos.”
At an emergency meeting in Seoul on Thursday, President Lee ordered top-level weapons for troops manning the tense Yellow Sea, a presidential aide said.
“We should not ease our sense of crisis in preparation for the possibility of another provocation by North Korea,” presidential spokesman Hong Sang-pyo quoted Lee as saying. “A provocation like this can recur any time.”
""If we're talking about a cyle of escalation, North Korea will always be one step ahead."
Hong said South Korea will sharply raise the number of ground troops on Yeonpyeong and four other islands, reversing a 2006 decision to draw down forces.
He declined to discuss specifics but said troops there currently are about 4,000.
He also said the military would change its rules of engagement to better counter North Korean provocations.
The defense minister’s resignation came hours after he visited Yeonpyeong, home to military bases as well as a fishing community of 1,300 residents. It lies about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from South Korea’s western port of Incheon, and just 7 miles (11 kilometers) from North Korean shores
Two marines and two civilians were killed in Tuesday’s exchange, and at least 18 people most of them troops were wounded.
Date created : 2010-11-25