Factbox: Sleepy South Korean island caught in the crossfire

SEOUL (BestGrowthStock) – North Korea on Tuesday fired dozens of artillery shells at the remote South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, killing two soldiers and setting houses ablaze.

Here some facts about the island:

* Yeonpyeong is a small island just 120 km (75 miles) west of Seoul. It lies in Yellow Sea waters claimed by the North but occupied by the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

* There are about 1,000 soldiers on Yeonpyeong and about 1,600 civilians.

* The North Korea shoreline looms 11 km (7 miles) away from the cliffs at the north end of the island.

* Through binoculars it is possible to see the holes in the rock carved out by the North to house its artillery trained on the South. A large signboard pointed toward the sea reads “Pray for Great Leader Kim Il-sung’s Revolutionary Ideas!,” a reference to the founding president of the impoverished state, whose cult rule has continued under his 67-year-old son Kim Jong-il.

* Yeonpyeong is at the center of five islands in the West Sea (Yellow Sea). Controlling this particular island means South Korea has the command of the West Sea and a means to deter North Korea’s naval forces, said Baek Seung-joo, an expert at the South’s Korea Institute for Defense Analysis.

* South Korea maintains a large military garrison on the island and keeps one of its latest class of “patrol killer” guided missile ships there.

* The island is equipped with 19 bomb shelters, and residents conduct monthly air raid drills.

* Locals on the sleepy but strategic island have lived with the North Korean threat for decades and grown used to it, rubbing elbows with South Korean soldiers on the daily ferry between the mainland and the island’s port, where South Korean naval speedboats bob in waters near crabbing vessels.

* The local coast guard office shows clearly where fishing vessels are restricted to an area to the east and west of the island and not near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), which is 1.6 km away. The NLL was declared as the sea border between the two Koreas by U.S.-led U.N. forces at the end of the Korean War. The North has declared it invalid.

* In recent years local fishermen have said they are losing out on the best crabs to hundreds of Chinese trawlers that pass through the North’s waters to fish in waters off limits to them.

* When tensions are low, the South’s fishermen try to push as close to the NLL as possible.

* The contested area has been the scene of a number of incidents over the years, and in March a South Korean warship was sunk there, killing 46 sailors. Seoul said it was hit by a North Korean torpedo, but Pyongyang denied any involvement.

* In June, North Korea responded to a joint U.S.-South Korean military drill in the area by firing more than 100 artillery shells toward the island. Ten of the shells landed on the opposite side of the NLL.

* Last year, the North and South Korean navies exchanged fire in the same area. One of the North’s vessels was severely damaged and a sailor killed. Two other deadly naval battles have been fought nearby over the past 10 years.

(Sources: Reuters, IHS Global Insight)

Factbox: Sleepy South Korean island caught in the crossfire