China urged to act on North Korea

Aerial view of Yeonpyeong island damage

China should use its influence over North Korea to defuse the crisis sparked by the North's shelling of a Southern island, US officials say.

State department spokesman PJ Crowley said Beijing's role was pivotal and urged Beijing to be clear on the issue.

China is the only nation with influence in the North but Beijing has so far issued statements urging restraint and has refused to blame the North.

Two South Korean civilians and two marines died in Tuesday's shelling.

The burnt bodies of two men in their 60s were found on Wednesday on the island, which lies near the disputed Yellow Sea border.

The latest TV pictures of the island show neighbourhoods reduced to rubble with shops and homes burnt and destroyed.

NORTH KOREAN ATTACKS

  • Jan 1967 - attacks South Korean warship near border, killing 39 sailors
  • Jan 1968 - commandos storm presidential palace in Seoul in a failed attempt to kill President Park Chung-hee
  • Jan 1968 - captures USS Pueblo - one crew member dies and 82 held hostage for 11 months
  • Dec 1969 - hijacks South Korean airliner taking dozens of passengers hostage
  • Oct 1983 - bombs hotel in Rangoon, Burma, in failed attempt to kill South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan - 21 people die
  • Nov 1987 - bombs South Korean airliner, killing 115
  • Mar 2010 - torpedoes Cheonan warship, 46 sailors killed. N Korea denies responsibility

The US, which is due to hold joint military drills with the South from this Sunday, urged China to take a tougher stance with its ally.

"China does have influence with North Korea and we would hope and expect that China will use that influence," said Mr Crowley.

"First to reduce tensions that have arisen as a result of North Korean provocations and then secondly [to] continue to encourage North Korea to take affirmative steps to denuclearise."

Mr Crowley described the shelling as a "one-off, premeditated act" and said the US did not think Pyongyang was preparing for an extended military confrontation.

Japanese officials have also encouraged China to take the lead with Pyongyang.

Earlier, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said they "regret the casualties and property losses, and are concerned about the situation".

"We strongly urge both sides retain calm and restraint and engage in talks as quickly as possible in order to prevent similar incidents from happening again," Mr Hong said in a statement carried by state-run Xinhua news agency.

At least 18 people were injured in Tuesday's attack.

Hundreds have since fled the island, taking ferries to the mainland where they described what happened.

"I heard the sound of artillery and I felt that something was flying over my head," said Lim Jung-eun, a 36-year-old housewife who fled the island with her three children. "Then the mountain caught on fire."

Map showing Yeonpyeong and the disputed border between North and South Korea

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