11/23/2010, 00.00
KOREA
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Pyongyang bombs South Korean island: houses destroyed, one dead

Conflict erupts on border between the two Koreas. Seoul returns fire, and sends a squadron of fighter planes. President Lee Myung-bak says he wants to avoid an escalation, but that if provocations continue, the answer will be "stronger." China expresses concern.

 Seoul (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The North Korea army this morning opened fire with artillery on an island located on the western border with South Korea. Witnesses, quoted by the television network YTN speak of dozens of houses in flames on South Korea's island of Yeonpyeong. One South Korean soldier is dead, and another 13 injured, four of them seriously.

The islanders were immediately evacuated, even using fishing boats. At least 200 shells were fired. The South Korea army immediately responded to the fire, and the artillery duel lasted intermittently for several hours. Seoul sent a squadron of fighter aircraft to the area, to monitor the situation.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak convened an emergency meeting of government in the early hours of the morning. Afterwards he said that he is trying to prevent the exchange of artillery fire with the North from escalating into a wider conflict, but that if the "provocations continue," Seoul's response will be "stronger ".

China has expressed concern about the exchange of artillery fire between the two Koreas and asked the parties to work for peace and stability on the peninsula. China believes it ''imperative'' to relaunch peace talks with North Korea after the exchange of artillery fire today between the two Koreas. "We have been informed, and express our concern about the situation," said Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei "We hope that both sides do more to contribute to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."

Russia has warned against a military escalation in the Korean peninsula after North Korea's artillery bombarded the South Korean island. The Russian Foreign Ministry affirmed as much in a statement quoted by Interfax.

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