US officials say North Korean artillery strike on South Korean island that lies near the disputed Yeallow Sea border, was an isolated incident. (photo, from aljazeera.net)
They also urged China to act, saying the country’s influence over North Korea should be used to defuse the crisis.
State department spokesman PJ Crowley said Beijing’s role was pivotal and urged Beijing to be clear on the issue.
Although China is the only country with influence in the North, so far Beijing has issued statements urging restraint and has refused to blame the North.
Tuesday’s shelling killed two South Korean civilians and two marines. On Wednesday, the burnt bodies of two men in their 60s were discovered on the island. And at least 18 people were injured.
The latest TV pictures of the island show neighbourhoods reduced to rubble with shops and homes burnt and destroyed.
From this Sunday, the US is due to hold joint military drills with the South. They 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.”
To Crowley, the shelling was a “one-off, premeditated act”. He said the US did not think Pyongyang was preparing for an extended military confrontation.
China has also been encouraged by Japanese officials to take the lead with Pyongyang.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said earlier that 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.
Hundreds took ferries to the mainland in order to flee the island. (see map below, from bbcimg.co.uk)
Once on the mainland 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.”