Artillery heard on tense Yellow Sea island

Blasts came hours after N Korea warned that peninsula was on brink of war.

Yeonpyeong Island: Fresh artillery shots were heard on Friday on the tense South Korean island of Yeonpyeong just three days after it was devastated by a North Korean attack. One report said the shots were from military drills being carried out on the nearby North Korean mainland.

The blasts came hours after Pyongyang warned that the peninsula was on the brink of war, and just after the top US commander in South Korea, General Walter Sharp, toured Yeonpyeong Island in a show of solidarity with Seoul and to survey damage from Tuesday`s hail of North Korean artillery fire that killed four people.

An official at the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said several new rounds of artillery fire were heard on Friday on the island, just 7 miles (11 kilometres) south of the North Korean mainland. The military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said several distant explosive sounds came from the direction of North Korea.

North Korea`s heavy bombardment of Yeonpyeong on Tuesday took hostilities to a new level because civilians were killed, prompting Washington to reaffirm plans to send a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to South Korean waters for joint military drills starting Sunday.

The North unleashed its anger over those drills in a dispatch earlier Friday on its state news agency, saying the weekend drills were a reckless move to target the North. "The situation on the Korean peninsula is inching closer to the brink of war," the Korean Central News Agency said.

Hours later, a news agency’s photographers at an observation point on the northwest side of Yeonpyeong heard about four explosions, and said they witnessed at least one flash of light on the North Korean mainland.

There were no immediate reports of damage.

South Korea`s YTN television network, citing an unidentified military official, said North Korea apparently was carrying out a military drill, and had fired up to 20 rounds. Yeonpyeong residents were fleeing to shelters, the report said. The report couldn`t be immediately confirmed.

Only a few dozen residents remained on Yeonpyeong, with most of the population of 1,300 fleeing in the hours and days after Tuesday`s attack and authorities urging them to evacuate.

Sharp toured Yeonpyeong earlier Friday, dressed in a heavy camouflage jacket and army fatigues and wearing a black beret. He walked down a heavily damaged street strewn with debris from buildings. Around him were charred bicycles and shattered bottles of soju, a kind of Korean alcoholic drink.

Sharp had returned to Seoul before the reports of artillery shots, said Kim Yong-kyu, a spokesman for the US military.

North Korea`s dispatch said that the country`s Army and people are "now greatly enraged" and "getting fully ready to give a shower of dreadful fire”, the agency said. "Escalated confrontation would lead to a war, and he who is fond of playing with fire is bound to perish."

Bureau Report

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