Improved relations belie old tensions
SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea today denied firing shells near a disputed maritime line, saying a frightened South Korea needlessly retaliated after mistaking normal blasting from a construction project for artillery.
South Korea, which fired several shells in what it said were two artillery exchanges with North Korea on Wednesday, dismissed the North’s claim as a typical “hackneyed” argument from a country that rarely acknowledges its provocations and instead blames Seoul for hostilities between the sides.
Relations between the Koreas have recently improved, but the different versions of what happened highlight the knife-edge tensions always present between the Koreas, especially in the Yellow Sea waters that both countries claim as their own.
“It was preposterous in the age of science when latest detecting and intelligence means are available that they mistook the blasting for shelling,” an unnamed North Korean representative to inter-Korean military talks said in a statement released by the official Korean Central News Agency.
“It was a tragicomedy that they indiscriminately reacted to what happened with counter-shelling even without confirming the truth about the case in the sensitive waters,” the official said.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said three North Korean shells originally fired near the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea prompted the South to fire three shells back. Another ministry official, who refused to be named because of office policy, said North Korea fired more rounds later in the day and that South Korea responded.
All the shells landed in the water, South Korea said, and there were no reports of casualties.
South Korean forces have been on high alert in the area since a North Korean artillery attack killed four people, including two marines, in November on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong island. Wednesday’s artillery exchange was near that island, South Korea said.
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