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Sunday, August 19, 2012 - Page updated at 08:30 p.m.
N. Korean leader visits troops near disputed sea border
By CHOE SANG-HUN
The New York Times
SEOUL, South Korea — The North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, has visited soldiers stationed near the two Koreas' disputed sea border and bestowed official accolades on the artillery unit that shelled a South Korean island in 2010, killing four people, the North's state-run news agency reported Saturday.
Kim, accompanied by top generals, was said to have met with soldiers stationed on two islets off North Korea's southern coast. The news of Kim's visit, the specific timing of which was not disclosed, came days before the annual U.S.-South Korea war games are scheduled to begin Monday.
North Korea usually does not announce the dates of Kim's visits to military units, though the North Korean news media are believed to report them shortly after they take place.
North Korea typically characterizes the joint U.S.-South Korean drills as preludes to an invasion of the North and escalates its strident talk against Seoul and the U.S., creating a sense of crisis that analysts say Kim needs as he seeks to consolidate his new leadership.
On one islet, called Mu, Kim "solemnly declared that if the enemy dares recklessly pre-empt firing and even a single shell drops" on North Korean territory, the North's army "should lead the battle to a sacred war for national reunification, not confining it to a local war on the southwest region," according to North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency.
In November 2010, the unit based on Mu launched an artillery barrage against the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, several miles to the south. Two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed.
North Korea claimed to be retaliating after South Korea fired into its waters; the South, which had been conducting an artillery exercise, said the North's shelling was unprovoked, and it started its own counterattack on the North's gun positions.
The North Korean report Saturday said the North suffered no military casualties in the 2010 exchange. It was the first time North Korea has addressed that question. South Korean news media, quoting unidentified government sources, have reported varying numbers of casualties on the North Korean side.
The report Saturday said Kim "proposed to award the title of hero to artillery piece No. 1 and the title of heroic defense detachment to the Mu Islet Defense Detachment."
The Koreas never agreed on a western sea border after the Korean War ended in 1953, and the waters around Yeonpyeong remain hotly disputed. The two navies fought skirmishes in the area in 1999, 2002 and 2009.
Kim's visit and his bellicose comments appeared to be aimed in part at bolstering his credentials as a military leader.
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