January 27, 2010 in Nation/World

Koreas trade fire over sea border

North has named no-sail zones in hint at missile tests
Hyung-Jin Kim Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea – North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire along their disputed western sea border today, an official said, escalating tensions on the divided peninsula.

North Korea fired about 30 rounds of land-based artillery from its coast, an officer at the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said.

South Korea, in response, immediately fired about 100 warning shots from a marine base on an island near the sea border, the officer said on condition of anonymity because of department policy.

He said no casualties or damage were immediately reported, and that the North’s artillery fire landed in its waters while the South fired into the air.

Top presidential secretary Chung Chung-kil convened an emergency meeting of security-related officials on behalf of President Lee Myung-bak, who was making a state visit to India, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. It said Lee was informed of the incident.

The exchange of fire came two days after the North designated two no-sail zones in the area through March 29 in a possible indication it may be preparing to conduct missile tests or other military exercises there. The zones include some South Korean-held waters.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Tuesday that it was trying to determine precisely what might be behind the North’s no-sail zone designation.

“In any kind of declaration like that we would encourage restraint on both sides,” Crowley said before the exchange of fire.

The western sea border – drawn by the American-led U.N. Command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War – is a constant source of tension between the two Koreas, with the North insisting the line be moved farther south.

Navy ships of the two Koreas fought a brief gunbattle in November that left one North Korean sailor dead and three others wounded. They engaged in similar bloody skirmishes in 1999 and 2002.

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