Two Koreas exchange fire near disputed border

South Korean military drills fending off attack as North Korean military drills attacking.

north korea south korea 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
north korea south korea 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)

SEOUL, South Korea - North Koreafired artillery rounds toward its disputed sea border with SouthKorea on Wednesday, prompting a barrageof warning shots from the South's military and raising tensions onthe divided peninsula.

No casualties or damage werereported, and analysts said the volley — which the North announcedwas part of a military drill — was likely a move by Pyongyang tohighlight the need for a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War.

North Koreafired about 30 artillery rounds into the sea from its western coastand the South immediately responded with 100 shots from a marine baseon an island near the sea border, an officer at the Joint Chiefs ofStaff in Seoul said. The North said it would continue to fire rounds.

He said the North's artilleryfire landed in its own waters while the South fired into the air. Theofficer spoke on condition of anonymity because of department policy.

The western sea border —drawn by the American-led UN Command at the close of the 1950-53Korean War — is a constant source of tension between the twoKoreas, with the North insisting theline be moved farther south.

Navy ships of the two Koreasfought a brief gunbattle in November that left one North Koreansailor dead and three others wounded. They engaged in similar bloodyskirmishes in 1999 and 2002.

North Koreaissued a statement later Wednesday saying it had fired artillery offits coast as part of an annual military drill and would continuedoing so.

Such drills "will go onin the same waters in the future," the General Staff of the(North) Korean People's Army said in a statement carried by theofficial Korean Central News Agency.

The North fired more shotslater Wednesday, but South Korea didn'trespond, a Defense Ministry official said, also requesting anonymitydue to department policy.

The exchange of fire came twodays after the North designated two no-sail zones in the area,including some South Korean-held waters, through March 29.

The North has sent a seriesof mixed signals to the South recently, combining offers of dialogueon economic cooperation with military threats, including one thismonth to destroy South Korea'spresidential palace. South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young,meanwhile, angered Pyongyang by saying Seoul's military should launcha pre-emptive strike if there was a clear indication the North waspreparing a nuclear attack.

South Korea'sDefense Ministry sent the North's military a message Wednesdayexpressing serious concern about the firing and saying it fostered"unnecessary tension" between the two sides.

It also urged the North toretract the no-sail zones, calling them a "grave provocation"and a violation of the Korean War armistice. The war ended with atruce, but not a formal peace treaty.

Separately, South Korea'spoint man on North Korea criticizedPyongyang for raising tension near the sea border.

"This kind of NorthKorean attitude is quite disappointing," Unification MinisterHyun In-taek told a security forum in Seoul.

South Korea'sYonhap news agency said it was the first time that North Koreahas fired artillery toward the sea border. The Joint Chiefs of Staffofficer said the North Korean artillery shells were believed to havefallen into the no-sail zones about 3 kilometers north of themaritime border.

Top South Korean presidentialsecretary Chung Chung-kil convened an emergency meeting ofsecurity-related officials on behalf of President Lee Myung-bak, whowas making a state visit to India, according to the presidential BlueHouse. It said Lee was informed of the incident.

Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor ofNorth Korean studies at Korea Universityin South Korea, said the North's actionwas aimed at highlighting the need for a peace treaty to formally endthe Korean War by showing that the peninsula is still a war zone.

"It's applying pressureon the US and South Korea," Yoosaid. He said North Korea also wasexpressing anger over South Korea'slukewarm response to a series of recent gestures seeking dialogue.

Earlier this month, NorthKorea called for the signing of a peacetreaty and the lifting of sanctions as conditions for its return tostalled nuclear disarmament talks it quit last year.

The US and South Korea,however, brushed aside the North's demands, saying they can happenonly after it returns to the disarmament negotiations and reportsprogress in denuclearization.