North Korea fired more than 100 artillery rounds into South Korean waters as part of a drill on Monday, prompting the South to fire back, officials in Seoul said, but the exercise appeared to be more saber rattling from Pyongyang rather than the start of a military standoff.
North had flagged its intentions to conduct the exercise in response to U.N.
condemnation of last week's missile launches by Pyongyang and against what it
says are threatening military drills in the South by US forces.
Korea also accused the South of "gangster-like" behavior 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.
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 in the
North's waters, defense 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
The Northern Limit Line, a maritime border that wraps
itself round 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
recognize 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
The line was drawn up at the end of the 1950-53 Korean
War and North Korea does not recognize it. The two sides are still technically
at war as the conflict ended in a mere truce, not a treaty.
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 telephone.
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 U.S.-South
Korean military drills that are held annually.
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 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-U.S. 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 program,
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.
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 the dollar.