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North Korea fires artillery near South Korean islands, prompting evacuations

North Korea fired over 200 artillery shells into the sea near a pair of South Korean border islands on Friday morning, Seoul's military said. Photo by Yonhap
1 of 2 | North Korea fired over 200 artillery shells into the sea near a pair of South Korean border islands on Friday morning, Seoul's military said. Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- North Korea fired more than 200 artillery shells into the sea near a pair of South Korean islands on Friday morning, Seoul's military said, prompting evacuation orders by local officials.

The North Korean military fired the rounds from roughly 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. into waters north of Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong islands in the Yellow Sea, Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Col. Lee Seong-jun said at a press briefing.

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"There was no resulting damage to our people or military, and the point of impact was the northern area of ​​the NLL," Lee said, referring to the Northern Limit Line, which is the de facto maritime border separating the two Koreas.

The military ordered civilians on the islands to evacuate to emergency shelters, news agency Yonhap reported.

North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, killing two civilians and two marines and injuring 18 others amid boundary disputes and joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises in the area.

Tensions are at their highest point in years on the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea conducting missile and weapons tests at a record pace since 2022. In November, Pyongyang withdrew from a 2018 inter-Korean military pact meant to reduce tensions in the border area after launching its first military spy satellite.

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"We sternly warn that North Korea is solely responsible for this escalating crisis and strongly urge it to stop immediately," Lee said. "Our military is tracking and monitoring related trends in close cooperation with the United States and will take appropriate measures in response to North Korea's provocations."

South Korean marines on Yeonpyeong Island held a live-fire drill in response on Friday afternoon, Seoul's Defense Ministry said.

"North Korea's resumption of artillery fire within the no-hostilities zone this morning after unilaterally declaring the complete withdrawal of the [2018] military agreement is a provocative act that threatens peace on the Korean Peninsula and heightens tensions," Defense Minister Shin Won-sik said in a statement sent to reporters.

Earlier on Friday, North Korean state media reported on leader Kim Jong Un's visit to a missile launcher factory, where he ordered increased preparations for a "military showdown with the enemy."

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