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[Op-Ed] Naval Chief`s Comments on Sea Battle

Posted June. 16, 2009 01:02,   


The First Battle of Yeonpyeong (Island) erupted between the South and North Korean navies on June 15, 1999, with the South claiming a decisive victory. Six of the North’s vessels were sunk or destroyed and dozens of its seamen were killed in the clash. The South Korean Navy had 11 soldiers injured and two vessels damaged. At a meeting of generals from the North and the United Nations Command held at the truce village of Panmunjom immediately after the battle, Pyongyang’s representative said at 10 a.m., “A battle broke out after the South Korean Navy launched a preemptive strike at 9:15 a.m.” The sea clash, however, started at 9:28 a.m. and lasted 14 minutes. The North’s representative gave the wrong time of his country’s naval operation.

A North Korean naval commander led his forces into the battle at a base right across the sea from Yeonpyeong Island in the South. In the first regular inter-Korean battle since the Korean War, the South Korean Navy overwhelmed the North. Nevertheless, then commander of the 2nd Naval Command Park Jung-sung was forced to resign as a major general after failing to get a promotion under the progressive government in Seoul. In contrast, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il sent as encouragement beef to a unit in the North’s naval command in the Yellow Sea despite his military losing the battle. The unit later started the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong on June 29, 2002, killing six South Korean sailors, injuring 19 others, and sinking one speedboat.

Both battles erupted under the Kim Dae-jung administration of South Korea. After the first, the South Korean Navy’s battle guidelines were replaced by a “strict ban on a preemptive strike and escalation of a battle, strict observation of the Northern Limit Line, and wise counteraction.” The new guidelines robbed South Korean frontline commanders of their operational authority. As a result, the South Korean Navy suffered heavy losses in the second battle. Park yesterday criticized the guidelines, saying “They were tantamount to instructions for revenge only after being hit by a cannonball.” The former president disrupted the main energy of his country’s defense forces yet went on to win the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize. He got the award by paying 3.5 trillion won (2.87 billion U.S. dollars) to Pyongyang in “peace costs.”

A monument was erected at the 2nd Naval Command last year nine years after the first battle. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jung Ok-keun in a commemorative speech at yesterday’s ceremony said, “Our soldiers must commit themselves to a harsher revenge (if they cut our finger, we cut their hand) if North Korea attacks us, and we must inherit the legacy of our perfect victory over the North 10 years ago.” His comments add to the South’s confidence. People who consider the 2000 inter-Korean joint declaration as a bible and blame the North’s nuclear weapons development and military threat to the South’s scrapping of the “sunshine policy” must realize that these strong troops defend national security.

Editorial Writer Yook Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)