YEONPYEONG ISLAND, South Korea — North Korea said Friday that planned U.S.-South Korean military drills are pushing the peninsula to the "brink of war" as a U.S. military commander headed to an island devastated by North Korean artillery to show solidarity with ally Seoul.
North Korea's state news agency said drills this weekend involving South Korean forces and a U.S. nuclear powered supercarrier in waters south of a skirmish Tuesday between the rival Koreas are a reckless plan by "trigger-happy elements" and that the maneuvers target the North.
"The situation on the Korean peninsula is inching closer to the brink of war," the dispatch from the Korean Central News Agency said.
The comments came ahead of a planned visit Friday by Gen. Walter Sharp, the U.S. military commander in South Korea, to the island targeted by the North Korean attack.
Four South Koreans — two marines and two civilians — were killed in the hour-long skirmish Tuesday when North Korea unleashed a hail of artillery on the Yeonpyeong, but the island was quiet Friday morning, with most residents having evacuated to the mainland.
Marines with M-16 rifles patrolled a seawall, while others gazed toward North Korea from a guard post on a cliff. Technicians worked to restore communication lines. Several stray hogs growled near destroyed houses.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Wednesday ordered reinforcements for about 4,000 troops on Yeonpyeong and four other Yellow Sea islands, as well as top-level weaponry for the soldiers and upgraded rules of engagement that would create a new category of response when civilian areas are targeted.
He also sacked his defense minister amid intense criticism over lapses in the country's response to the attack.
In scenes reminiscent of the Korean War 60 years ago, dazed residents of Yeonpyeong island this week have foraged through blackened rubble for pieces of their lives and lugged their possessions down eerily deserted streets strewn with bent metal.
"It was a sea of fire," resident Lee In-ku said Thursday, recalling the flames that rolled through the streets of this island that is home to military bases as well as a fishing community famous for its catches of crab. The spit of land had only six pieces of artillery.