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(LEAD) S. Korea returns fire after N. Korean shell falls near western sea border
(ATTN: UPDATES throughout)
SEOUL, Aug. 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea fired three shots toward the tense western sea border after one North Korean shell apparently fell near there, the military here said Wednesday.

   The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the South's Navy heard North Korea fire three artillery shots toward the Northern Limit Line (NLL) around 1 p.m. Wednesday, and then responded around 2 p.m. with three warning shots.

   "We estimated that one North Korean shell dropped near the NLL," a JCS official said. "We haven't noticed any particular movements in the North Korean military but we're maintaining a defense posture."

   The official said the North Korean shots appeared to have come from Yongmae Island, about 11 kilometers north of the NLL and some 20km northeast of Yeonpyeong Island. The South's warnings shots were launched from Yeonpyeong, the official said.

   The official explained that the South took its time to assess the situation before firing warning shots.

   "If we had sustained any damage or if the shots had landed near our vessel, then we would've responded immediately," the official said. "But the shot appeared to have fallen near the NLL, and we directed our warning shots toward the line."

   Another JCS official said it was difficult to determine whether the North Korean shell had actually crossed the NLL because of the lack of visibility in the Yellow Sea.

   Last November, North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island, killing two civilians and two Marines. It was the North's first attack aimed at South Korean territory since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, and its second deadly provocation against the South in 2010. In March, the North torpedoed the South Korean warship Cheonan in the Yellow Sea, killing 46 sailors aboard.

   The NLL, which U.N. forces drew unilaterally at the end of the Korean War, has served as the de facto maritime boundary between the two Koreas. They still remain technically in a state of war since the Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

   The North has contested the legitimacy of the NLL in recent decades and has demanded that it be redrawn, a request that the South has rejected.

   The two Koreas have engaged in three bloody naval skirmishes in waters near Yeonpyeong, most recently in 2009.

   jeeho@yna.co.kr
(END)
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