Residents of two South Korean islands near North Korea received evacuation orders on Friday (January 5) after Pyongyang fired shells into their area.

“The North Korean military carried out more than 200 shots today between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. [1 a.m. and 3 a.m. PST] in the areas of Jangsan-got in northern Baengnyeong Island and in the north… of Yeonpyeong Island,” a South Korean defense ministry official said at a news conference.

Local authorities on Yeonpyeong Island told Agence France-Presse that civilians were ordered to evacuate as a “preventative measure.” This South Korean island is located in the Yellow Sea, about 80 km west of Incheon and 12 km south of the coast of North Korea’s Hwanghae province.

“We are making evacuation announcements at the moment,” a district official on Baengnyeong Island told Agence France-Presse, adding that he had been informed of an upcoming naval exercise by the army. South Korean. This island is located a few dozen kilometers from the North Korean coast, also in the Yellow Sea.

An “act of provocation”, denounces Seoul

In the wake of Pyongyang’s artillery barrage, South Korea denounced an “act of provocation”, urging its neighbor to put an end to it and warning that it will respond with “appropriate” measures.

“We strongly warn that North Korea bears full responsibility for this escalation of the crisis and we urge it to immediately cease these actions,” South Korea’s defense ministry wrote in a statement. “Our military is closely monitoring and monitoring the situation in close coordination with the United States,” he added.

In 2010, Pyongyang fired 170 artillery shells at Yeonpyeong Island, killing four people, including two civilians, in the first North Korean attack against civilians since the Korean War (1950-1953).

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called for increased production of missile launchers during a visit to an arms factory, in preparation for a “military confrontation” with South Korea and the United States, state news agency KCNA reported on Friday.

The White House said Thursday that Pyongyang had provided Russia with ballistic missiles and launch systems used in major attacks in recent days against Ukraine.

Deteriorated relationships

The two Koreas began a process of rapprochement in 2018, characterized by three meetings between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in. But relations between the two countries deteriorated to a low point this year after Pyongyang’s launch of a spy satellite, which prompted Seoul to partially suspend a 2018 military deal aimed at defusing tensions.

At the end of a meeting of the central committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea in late December, Kim Jong-un ordered the acceleration of military preparations for a “war” that could “be launched at any time” on the peninsula.

In 2023, North Korea conducted a record number of ballistic missile tests, in violation of numerous United Nations resolutions prohibiting it. The country also engraved its status as a nuclear power in its Constitution, and successfully tested the Hwasong-18, the most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in its arsenal, capable of reaching the United States.