SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a live artillery drill at the same spot from which the North launched its deadly 2010 attack on a South Korean island, fueling tensions on the Korean Peninsula, The Washington Times reported Thursday, citing state media.
The state-run Korea Central News Agency did not say when the exercise took place in its report published Thursday, but Reuters said the location — close to a disputed sea border — is seen as the “mostly likely” site for any battle between the two Koreas.
The purpose of the drill was to “test the capabilities of artillery batteries under real battle conditions,” South Korean news agency Yonhap reported, citing KCNA.
The exercise, most likely held on Wednesday, targeted the islands of Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong, Yonhap added.
On Monday, Kim was quoted by KCNA as threatening to "wipe out" Baengnyeong in the event hostilities break out.
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"Once an order is issued, you should break the waists of the crazy enemies, totally cut their windpipes and thus clearly show them what a real war is like," Kim was quoted as saying.
Though many dismiss North Korean warmongering as bluster, the threat to Baengnyeong's 5,000 civilian residents is credible.
South Koreans have fresh memories of the West Sea tragedies of 2010, which makes this live-fire artillery drill particularly unnerving for some people living on the five islands in the disputed area.
In November 2010, North Korea followed through and shelled Yeongpyeong Island, killing two marines and two contractors working on the marine base.
That year the North's military sank a South Korean naval vessel near the Yellow Sea, killing 46 people.
In recent weeks, hundreds have fled Yeongpyeong, as reported by the Chosun Ilbo, the country's largest newspaper.
On the other hand, North Korean media mouthpieces threatened to turn the nearby island of Baengnyeong, rather than Yeongpyeong, into a "sea of flames" on Tuesday. It's not clear why this particular island is the subject of bluster this time.
Kim’s visit to the west coast coincided with the beginning of a joint military exercise by the United States and South Korea, an annual drill that prompted the North to cut a hotline with the South and nullify the Korean War armistice and all nonaggression pacts signed with the South.
It also came after the UN imposed sanctions on the isolated Stalinist state following its nuclear test in February and threats to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States.
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