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(2nd LD) Koreas exchange fire near western sea border

2014/10/07 13:52

By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Oct. 7 (Yonhap) -- South and North Korean patrol boats briefly exchanged fire Tuesday after a North Korean naval vessel violated the western maritime border, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

The clash came three days after a high-powered North Korean delegation made a rare visit to South Korea and agreed to hold another round of high-level dialogue in the near future, raising hopes for a thaw in inter-Korean relations.

The exchange of fire took place at around 9:50 a.m. in waters near Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea, after a North Korean patrol boat crossed the Northern Limit Line (NLL) into the South's waters, the JCS said in a statement.

"To force the vessel to retreat, our side issued warning messages and fired five warning shots. But the North Korean vessel fired back rather than backing down, which caused us to fire again. Then the ship made a retreat," it said, adding that the exchange of gunfire lasted some 10 minutes.

Though the South Korean military fired some 90 shots, including 10 shots with 76 millimeter guns, most of the artillery did not have a long enough range to reach the North Korean patrol boat, a JCS officer said, requesting anonymity.

North Korea shot dozens of rounds in return and not a single one fell near the South Korean vessel, he added.

"The South Korean patrol boat did not sustain any damage, nor did the North Korean vessel appear to have been hit. Neither side aimed their shots," he said, noting that the two ships were some 8.8 kilometers apart.

The two sides did exchange fire, but the Seoul government did not view the incident as "a battle as the two Koreas did not aim at each other, and they did not bear any intention to kill or hurt the opponent," according to the officer.

"The North Korean patrol ship may have crossed the border into the South while trying to clamp down on its fishing boats around the border or in order to make good on its push to nullify the sea border," the JCS officer said.

Drawn by the U.S.-led United Nations Command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, the NLL acts as the de facto sea border between the two Koreas. Pyongyang does not recognize the border, and the two sides fought bloody battles there in 1999, 2002 and 2009. North Korean fishing vessels often wander into the area and are frequently chased away by South Korean patrol vessels.

"We have maintained full readiness while closely watching the North Korean military's movements," the JCS said. "No other extraordinary movements were detected at the border region when the North's vessels intruded onto our side."

   On Saturday, a North Korean delegation led by Hwang Pyong-so, believed to be the North's No. 2 man, made a surprise visit to South Korea to attend the closing ceremony of the 2014 Asian Games.

Before attending the ceremony Saturday night, the delegation held rare high-level talks with top-ranking South Korean security officials and agreed to hold another round of high-level dialogue in the near future. It was the highest-level meeting between South and North Korea in five years.

Hwang, vice chairman of the communist country's all-powerful National Defense Commission, was accompanied by Choe Ryong-hae, a Workers' Party of Korea secretary, and Kim Yang-gon, who is in charge of Pyongyang's relations with Seoul.

graceoh@yna.co.kr

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