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N. Korea fires artillery near disputed border

South had ended 5-day naval drill

By Hyung-Jin Kim
Associated Press / August 10, 2010

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SEOUL — North Korea fired about 110 rounds of artillery yesterday near its disputed sea border with South Korea, the South’s military said, amid high tension over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on North Korea.

The fusillade erupted after South Korea ended five days of naval drills off the west coast that the North called a rehearsal for an invasion, vowing to retaliate.

All the artillery shells landed harmlessly in the North’s waters and caused no damage to the South, a South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff officer said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

South Korea considered the firing part of a military drill by North Korea but still bolstered its military readiness against further provocation, the officer said. The South also warned Pyongyang over the firing by naval radio, he said.

“This was their way of saying, ‘We’ll respond to military drills with military drills,’ ’’ said Yang Moo Jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies.

The firing is also aimed at highlighting the instability of the Korean peninsula to pressure the United States to start talks on signing a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, Yang said. The conflict ended with an armistice, leaving the peninsula technically at a state of war. North Korea has long sought a peace treaty and diplomatic relations with Washington to guarantee that the United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, would not invade and topple Kim Jong Il’s government. The United States has repeatedly said it has no intention of attacking the North.

Tension on the Korean peninsula is running high following the March sinking of the South Korean warship that an international investigation blamed on a North Korean torpedo attack. The North denies the accusation and has warned that any punishment would trigger war.

Tension deepened last week when South Korea launched large-scale naval training in response to the sinking, prompting its communist neighbor to warn it would counter the maneuvers with a “strong physical retaliation.’’

On Sunday, North Korean authorities seized four South Korean and three Chinese fishermen aboard a 41-ton South Korean fishing boat for an alleged violation of the North’s exclusive economic zone. South Korea has demanded the North quickly release them, but the North has not responded.

China expressed concern over news of the seizure but said its diplomats in North Korea are verifying the report with local authorities, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported last night.

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