Koreas fire shells in disputed waters
Exchange follows easing of tensions
SEOUL, South Korea - South Korean marines returned fire yesterday after North Korea launched artillery shells into waters near the disputed maritime line that separates the two rivals, South Korean defense officials said.
The three North Korean shells fired near the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea prompted the South to fire three shells back, Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said. Another ministry official, who refused to be named because of office policy, said North Korea fired more rounds later in the day and South Korea responded.
Both sides’ shells landed in the water, and there were no reports of casualties.
South Korean forces have been on high alert in the area since a North Korean artillery attack killed four people in November on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong island. Yesterday’s artillery exchange, which happened in hazy weather, was near that island.
The firing follows a recent easing of animosity between the Koreas and could be a warning about joint US-South Korean military drills set for next week.
Last month, a senior North Korean diplomat met with US officials in New York to negotiate ways to restart long-stalled international talks aimed at persuading the North to abandon its nuclear weapons aspirations. The meeting came after the Koreas’ nuclear envoys held cordial talks during a regional security forum in Indonesia.
Yesterday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland urged North Korea to take steps to allow the six-nation disarmament talks to resume.
“This incident is now over, and we now need to move back to the main business at hand, which is for North Korea to show us, to show South Korea, and to show other partners that it’s truly committed to the kind of goals we have together in terms of denuclearization,’’ Nuland told a news conference in Washington.
The South Korean official who spoke on condition of anonymity said South Korean forces stepped up monitoring of the North after yesterday’s artillery exchange. South Korean marines on Yeonpyeong returned fire after North Korea fired from one of its front-line islands, the official said.
The North’s shelling took place unexpectedly, the official said, and neither side was conducting firing drills at the time. The South Korean military has yet to determine the motive behind the North’s shelling, the official said.
Violence often erupts in the contested slice of sea.
Boats routinely jostle for position during crab-catching season, and three deadly naval clashes since 1999 have taken a few dozen lives.