South Korea's defense minister resigns

Reuters, AFP, Thursday 25 Nov 2010

South Korea's defense minister resigns on Thursday following deadly clashes with North Korea two days earlier.

Lee Myung-bak and Kim Tae-young
AP: South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, center, arrives with Defense Minister Kim Tae-young, second right, at the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the military was put on top alert after North Korea's artillery attack on South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010.

South Korea's defense minister Kim Tae-young tendered in his resignation Thursday, two days following a clash with North Korea. President Lee Myung-bak accepted the minister's resignation and said in a presidential statement that Kim wished to step down "to take responsibility for a recent series of incidents."

Two days after North Korea fired a barrage of artillery shells at the island of Yeonpyeong, killing two civilians and two soldiers and destroying dozens of houses, members of President Lee Myung-bak's own party and opposition lawmakers accused the military of acting too late.

"The soldiers did not flee and in the midst of a rain of fire, they pinpointed the target and started firing which has never occurred in the past before," Marine Colonel Joo Jong-hwa said. "They did very well." A senior South Korean marine on Thursday said the 13 minutes it took to strike back after a North Korean artillery attack was no easy feat, defending the military's action against criticism the response was too slow.

Some legislators said the military should have responded more ruthlessly, such as by staging an air strike on the North's artillery batteries. Kim said that air power could have sparked a "full blown war."

North Korea says it was retaliating to live fire from South Korea into its waters after warning the South by phone not to go ahead with a drill.

North Korea has disputed the maritime border that runs just 1.5 km from the cannon bunker, and often challenged the so-called Northern Limit Line in the past 12 years, at times clashing in gunfights that have left scores of sailors dead. Joo said there were fewer North Korean fishing boats in the waters since the artillery fight. "We believe that North Korea has still not eased its firing readiness."

South Korea said on Thursday it would increase troops on islands near North Korea with Pyongyang warning it would follow its bombardment with more attacks if its neighbour tried any "provocations".

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