31 Mar 2014

North and South Korea exchange territorial fire

North and South Korea pepper each other’s territorial waters with artillery shells in the latest show of tensions between the two old enemies.

Joint landing operation by US and South Korean Marines (picture: Getty)

Above: a South Korean Marine stands on a beach as amphibious assault vehicles approach the seashore during a joint US/South Korea military drill.

North Korea fired 500 artillery shells in a military drill on Monday, 100 of which landed in South Korean waters.

South Korea fired back, officials in Seoul said, launching more than 300 artillery shells into North Korea’s territorial waters. F-15s were also scrambled on South Korea side of the Northern Limit Line maritime border.

Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for South Korea’s defence ministry, 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.”

Washington also criticised North Korea’s action as “dangerous and provocative”.

North Korea flagged its intentions to conduct the drills last week, in response, Pyongyang said, to UN condemnation of missile launches last week and against military drills being carried out jointly between the US and South Korea.

North Korea has also accused its southern neighbour of “gangster-like” behaviour at the weekend by “abducting” one of its fishing boats. South Korea said it had sent the boat back after it drifted into its waters.

The current US-South Korea military drill, conducted annually, ends on 18 April. However Russia has criticised the drills, saying that the US and South Korea were aggravating the situation.

Russia’s foreign ministry also said it was concerned about rising tensions, including what it said was an intention by North Korea to conduct a new nuclear test.

“We are worried about the mutual toughening of rhetoric, including the declaration by North Korea that it could conduct a new nuclear test,” a statement said.

China, North Korea’s largest trade partner, called for restraint on both sides.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: “The temperature is rising at present on the Korean peninsula, and this worries us.”

China and North Korea have traditionally enjoyed close diplomatic ties, though North Korea’s recent actions, especially nuclear tests, have seen China begin to criticise its neighbour.