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(3rd LD) Two Koreas exchange gun fire after S. Korea's anti-Pyongyang campaigns

2014/10/10 21:37

By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Oct. 10 (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea exchanged machine gun fire across the tense border on Friday, after the North apparently tried to shoot down balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets floated by civic activists in the South, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

Some of the North Korean shots landed south of the border, prompting the South's military to fire back in response, according to the JCS.

There were no reports of casualties or property damage in South Korea, though no details were known about the situation in the North.

"Shots could be heard from north of the border at around 3:55 p.m., and about an hour later, rounds apparently fired from North Korean anti-aircraft machine guns were discovered near the military camps here and the community center in Yeoncheon," a JCS officer said, requesting anonymity, referring to the South's border town, from which the balloons were released.

"Upon finding them, our military broadcast warning messages six times and fired back around 40 rounds from the K-6 machine guns from 5:40 p.m. toward the North's guard posts (GPs) along the border," he said.

In accordance with the pre-set rule of engagement, South Korean troops can fire shots toward the North's guard posts in case they cannot spot the origin of attacks, the officer said.

"Some 10 minutes later, a handful of bullets flew toward our GPs, which caused our service personnel to fire back nine shots again," he added.

The North apparently fired shots first with the aim of shooting down the balloons, but Seoul officials said they could not confirm whether the North's attempt was successful.

At around 11 a.m., the civic group named Fighters for Free North Korea flew some 200,000 anti-North Korean leaflets in 10 balloons in the border village of Paju. Some three hours later, another civic activist sent 23 balloons carrying 1.32 million similar leaflets toward the North from Yeoncheon.

The South Korean military in the area remained on full alert throughout the confrontation while closely watching the North's military's movements, the JCS said, adding that no other extraordinary enemy movements were detected at the border regions.

Pyongyang had warned that Seoul would face "uncontrollable catastrophe" unless the leaflet campaign is stopped. Despite the Seoul government's request for the civic groups to refrain from launching the campaign, they went ahead with it, insisting that the government has no legal options to deter them.

North Korea has long bristled at the leaflet campaign by civic groups in South Korea. Some of them are led by defectors from the communist North.

The two Koreas have often clashed along the sensitive Yellow Sea border but they have seldom exchanged fire across the land border. In November 2010, the communist North shelled the western border island of Yeonpyeong, killing four people, including two civilians.

Friday's clash comes three days after South and North Korean patrol boats briefly exchanged fire after a North Korean speedboat crossed the Yellow Sea border into South Korean waters.

Concerns have grown that the clashes would dampen an amicable mood building on the Korean Peninsula after a high-powered North Korean delegation made a surprise visit to South Korea last week, raising hopes for a breakthrough in the deadlocked inter-Korean relations.

During their brief stay in South Korea, the North Koreans met with Seoul officials and agreed to hold another round of high-level talks before early November at the latest.

"By putting what it had warned into action, the North appears to maximize the effects of its threats so as to take the upper hand in dealing with the inter-Korean ties down the road," said Cheong Seong-jang, a senior researcher at Sejong Institute in Seoul.

"It is safe to say that the inter-Korean relations are at a critical juncture after the recent clashes," he said. "Even if the two Koreas hold high-level talks, I don't think the two would draw any meaningful results."

  

graceoh@yna.co.kr

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