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South Korea orders island evacuation over ‘provocation’

South Korea has ordered civilians on an island near the border with North Korea to evacuate to shelters, after accusing Pyongyang of firing off hundreds of artillery shells as part of a military “provocation.”

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The evacuation order was issued twice on Friday afternoon by local authorities, Yonhap News reported, noting that it came amid “apparent signs of a military provocation by North Korea.”

“We announced the evacuation after receiving a call from a military unit saying it was carrying out a maritime strike on Yeongpyeong Island as it has a situation with a North Korean provocation,” an unnamed official was quoted as saying by Yonhap.

Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said later that North Korea launched around 200 artillery shells off its west coast on Friday morning. The projectiles landed in a maritime buffer zone established under a 2018 deal between the two Koreas, though Pyongyang has since withdrawn from the agreement.

“We gravely warn that the entire responsibility of such crisis-escalating situations lies with North Korea and strongly urge for its immediate halt,” JCS spokesperson Colonel Lee Sung-jun said. 

The South Korean military, which is working in “close coordination” with the US, is “tracking and monitoring related activity and will conduct corresponding measures to North Korea’s provocations,” he stressed.

Seoul plans to conduct live-fire drills of its own on the northwestern border islands in the Yellow Sea later on Friday, in response to the artillery firing by Pyongyang, unnamed officials told Yonhap News.

The reports came soon after joint US-South Korea live-fire military drills near the border, which the North condemned as “reckless war maneuvers.” Involving a South Korean Army mechanized infantry brigade and the US Stryker Brigade Combat Team, the drills began on December 29 in the border city of Pocheon, some 46km (28.5 miles) northeast of Seoul.

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