A US helicopter takes off from the USS Bonhomme Richard LHD
6 in the sea off Pohang yesterday. REUTERS/Korea
North Korea fired more than 100 artillery rounds into
South Korean waters as part of a drill, prompting the South to
fire back, officials in Seoul said, but the exercise appeared
to be more sabre-rattling from Pyongyang rather than the start
of a military standoff.
The North had flagged its intentions to conduct the exercise
in response to UN condemnation of last week's missile
launches by Pyongyang and against what it says are
threatening military drills in the South by US forces.
North Korea also accused the South of "gangster-like"
behaviour at the weekend by "abducting" one of its fishing
boats and threatened to retaliate. The South said it had sent
the boat back after it drifted into its waters.
More than 100 North Korean shells out of 500 or so fired
landed in South Korean waters, prompting marines from the
South to fire back with more than 300 rounds into the North's
waters, defence officials in Seoul said.
Seoul also scrambled F-15s on its side of the maritime
border, they said.
"We believe the North's maritime firing is a planned
provocation and an attempt to test our military's
determination to defend the Northern Limit Line and to get an
upper hand in South-North relations," South Korean Defence
Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.
In Washington, the White House called North Korea's actions
"dangerous and provocative" and said the country's threats
and provocations only isolate it further.
"We remain steadfast in our commitment (to) the defense of
our allies and remain in close coordination with both the
Republic of Korea and Japan," White House National Security
Council spokesman Jonathan Lalley said.
The Northern Limit Line, a maritime border that wraps itself
around a part of the North's coastline, has been the scene of
frequent clashes and in 2010, four people were killed when
North Korea shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong.
"It's up to the two militaries either to recognise or reject
their own claimed line, and challenge the other's. This goes
back and forth, so this is probably another episode of that,"
said Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group.
Earlier in 2010, a South Korean naval vessel was sunk close
to the line by what an international commission said was a
North Korean torpedo, although the North denies involvement.
The line was drawn up at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War
and North Korea does not recognise it. The two sides are
still technically at war as the conflict ended in a mere
truce, not a treaty.
The residents of Baengnyeong island, one of the remote
islands close to the firing area, were evacuated to bomb
shelters as a precaution, a government official said by
North Korea has ratcheted up its rhetoric in recent weeks and
conducted a series of missile launches, mostly short range,
in response to what it sees as the threat posed by a series
of joint US-South Korean military drills that are held
The current drill called Foal Eagle ends on April 18.
"At a time that South Korea and the United States are
conducting military exercises using sophisticated equipment,
the North is unlikely to be reckless enough to do anything
that will lead to a sharp worsening of the situation," said
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean
Studies in Seoul.
"There is an element of trying to show displeasure at the
South Korea-US drills and to pressure the South, but it
doesn't seem the North wants this to blow up into something
China, which hosted several rounds of now-defunct
multilateral talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear
weapons programme, nevertheless said it was concerned at the
exchange of fire and called for restraint from both sides.
"The temperature is rising at present on the Korean
peninsula, and this worries us," Foreign Ministry spokesman
Hong Lei said in Beijing.
He added that China was also concerned by the North's threat
to carry out more nuclear tests.
North Korea threatened nuclear strikes against the South and
the United States last year after the United Nations
tightened sanctions against it for conducting its third
Financial markets in South Korea were unmoved by the latest
developments, with the stock market's benchmark KOSPI turning
higher from early losses to finish up 0.2 percent and the won
extending gains to end onshore trade up 0.4 percent against