Koreas exchange warning shots along maritime border amid tensions

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Rival Koreas exchanged warning shots along their disputed western maritime border on Monday, their military said, amid heightened animosities over the recent barrage of weapons tests of North Korea.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Rival Koreas exchanged warning shots along their disputed western maritime border on Monday, their military said, amid heightened animosities over the recent barrage of weapons tests of North Korea.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that its navy issued warnings and fired warning shots to fend off a North Korean merchant vessel it said violated the maritime border on Monday morning.

North Korea’s military said its coastal defense units responded by firing 10 artillery warning shots into its territorial waters, where « enemy naval movement was detected ». He accused a South Korean navy vessel of entering North Korean waters under the guise of cracking down on an unidentified vessel.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North Korean artillery fire violated a 2018 inter-Korean agreement on reducing military animosities and undermined stability on the Korean peninsula. He said North Korean shells did not land in South Korean waters, but South Korea was stepping up its military preparedness.

There have been no reports of clashes between the Koreas, but the poorly marked maritime boundary off the west coast of the Korean peninsula is a source of longstanding animosities between the Koreas. It is the scene of several bloody inter-Korean naval skirmishes and violence in recent years, including the North’s bombardment of a South Korean island and the alleged torpedoing of a South Korean navy ship that killed a total of 50 people in 2010.

In recent weeks, North Korea has carried out a series of weapons tests in response to what it calls provocative joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States. Some observers say North Korea could expand its round of tests or launch provocations near the western maritime border as the South Korean and US militaries continue their combined military drills.

Washington and Seoul had scaled back or canceled their regular drills in recent years to bolster their now-dormant nuclear diplomacy with North Korea or guard against the COVID-19 pandemic. But the allies have revived or expanded such training since the inauguration in May of conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who swears a tougher stance on North Korean provocation.

In its statement on Monday, the North Korean People’s Army General Staff accused South Korea of ​​causing animosities near its land border as well as with its own artillery tests and high-profile broadcasts. propaganda talkers. South Korea has already confirmed it carried out artillery fire last week as part of its regular military drills, but did not immediately respond to the North’s claim about loudspeaker broadcasts.

« The KPA General Staff once again sends a grave warning to the enemies who have even made a naval intrusion following provocations such as the recent artillery fire and the broadcast of loudspeakers on the front land, » the statement from the North said.

In 2018, the two Koreas dismantled huge loudspeakers used to broadcast Cold War-style propaganda across their strained border as part of their reconciliation moves at the start of now-dormant nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington. If South Korea had restarted its propaganda broadcasts, it could trigger a strong North Korean reaction, as it was previously extremely sensitive to South Korean broadcasts criticizing its human rights record, world news and songs of K-pop. Most of North Korea’s 26 million people have no official access to foreign television and radio programs.

« Pyongyang’s policy of blaming external threats and projecting confidence in military capabilities may motivate greater risk-taking, » said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. « North Korea’s investigation of South Korea’s perimeter defenses could lead to a serious firefight and unintended escalation. »

Since September 25, North Korea has fired 15 missiles and hundreds of artillery shells into the sea.

The missile launches were largely in protest against US-South Korean training near the Korean peninsula that involved a US aircraft carrier for the first time in five years. North Korea said its artillery drills were being held as countermeasures against similar South Korean artillery drills in border areas.

Seoul and Washington regularly conduct military exercises to maintain their preparedness against possible North Korean aggression. The allies say their drills are defensive in nature, but North Korea sees them as a rehearsal for an invasion.

The South Korean military conducts annual field exercises which are due to end on Friday. This year’s exercises involve an unknown number of US troops.

Next week, South Korea and the United States are to hold joint air force exercises involving some 240 fighter jets, including F-35 fighters operated by the two countries. The drills aim to inspect the two countries’ joint operations capabilities and improve combat readiness, the South Korean military said on Tuesday.

Some experts say North Korea’s recent missile tests suggest its leader Kim Jong Un has no plans to resume stalled nuclear diplomacy with Washington anytime soon, as he wants to focus on modernizing his arsenal nuclear power to strengthen its influence in future negotiations with the United States.

Hyung-jin Kim, Associated Press


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