Prime Minister Han Seung-soo delivers a speech at the Navy’s 2nd Fleet headquarters in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, Sunday, during a ceremony commemorating the sixth anniversary of the second Yeonpyeong Naval Battle. The battle occurred on June 29, 2002 when North Korean patrol boats opened fire on their South Korean counterparts, taking the lives of six South Korean sailors and injuring 18. Under the liberal administrations of the past 10 years, victims of the naval skirmish were not officially honored in public ceremonies out of concern over provoking North Korea. This is the first time that the government has organized a ceremony to honor the dead. / Yonhap
By Jung Sung-ki
An annual ceremony marking the death of six South Korean sailors who died while defending the western maritime border with North Korea in 2002 took place Sunday morning, but this time with deeper respect for the fallen heroes than under previous liberal governments, which placed emphasis on inter-Korean ties.
The government organized the ceremony for the first time since the deadly gun battle occurred, with previous anniversaries marked only by the Navy.
Prime Minister Han Seung-soo called the ``Second Yeonpyeong Naval Battle'' a victorious battle by South Korean naval forces against North Korea's provocative attempt to neutralize the sea border, the Northern Limit Line (NLL).
``The previous governments failed not only to evaluate the significance of the Second Yeonpyeong Battle in the right manner, but also to honor the fallen heroes who sacrificed themselves for the defense of our nation,'' Han said in a speech during the ceremony held in the Second Navy Fleet headquarters, Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province. ``I deeply apologize to the bereaved family members and soldiers wounded during the battle for that.''
``Based on robust national defense, we have to make efforts to further develop inter-Korean relations. Through efforts, the NLL should be transformed into a peaceful sea lane setting the stage for inter-Korean exchanges and reconciliation,'' Han added.
The NLL, the sea boundary imposed by the United Nations Command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, has been a flash point for conflicts between South and North Korea. Pyongyang refuses to accept it a border.
On June 29, 2002, two North Korean patrol boats crossed the NLL. As South Korean ships approached to deter the infiltration, the North Koreans abruptly opened fire in violation of the rules of engagement, provoking the South Korean Navy to return fire.
One of the North Korean ships was heavily damaged and 30 North Koreans are believed to have been killed or wounded. Additionally, six South Koreans, including Lt. Cmdr. Yoon Young-ha, were killed and 18 others injured, while a Chamsoori-class patrol boat sank while being towed back to shore.
The naval skirmish occurred near Yeonpyeong Island, the South Korean island closest to North Korea. It is located only 11 kilometers from the North Korean mainland.
In 1999, both navies clashed near the island.
This year, North Korean navy ships have violated the NLL at least six times, most of which appeared to be accidental, occurring while expelling Chinese fishing boats, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.