South Korea returns fire after North shells border sea area

Exchange of artillery fire comes after North said it may conduct new form of nuclear test

South Korea has returned artillery fire after North Korea lobbed shells over the two countries’ western sea border, pushing tensions to their highest in months. Video: Reuters

Mon, Mar 31, 2014, 11:16

South Korea has returned artillery fire after North Korea lobbed shells over the two countries’ western sea border, pushing tensions to their highest in months.

South Korea’s shells landed in North Korean waters, an official at South Korea’s Defence Ministry said, asking not to be named, citing official policy.

North Korea earlier today notified South Korea of planned live-fire drills, the South’s Defence Ministry spokesman Wi Yong-seob said in a briefing.

Residents on the South Korean islands of Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong in the border area were moved to shelters, Yonhap News reported, without citing any source.

China has called for calm and restraint on the Korean peninsula after the artillery exchange.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei made the remarks in a daily briefing today.

The North’s military exercise, coming in the wake of UN condemnation of its missile launches last week, appeared to be sabre rattling from Pyongyang rather than a prelude to heightened tensions.

The exchange of artillery fire comes after North Korea yesterday said it may conduct a “new form” of nuclear test, and before US defence secretary Chuck Hagel’s visit to the region later this week.

North Korea fired artillery shells at Yeonpyeong island in November 2010, killing two marines and prompting South Korea to return fire and mobilise fighter jets.

North Korea’s live-fire drills are a hostile act toward the South and escalate tensions along the western sea border, Defence Ministry spokesman Wi said earlier today. The military is ready for any possible provocation, Mr Wi said.

North Korea has fired at least 86 rockets since February 27th prior to today’s drills, including ballistic missiles banned under UN resolutions. The country’s foreign ministry defended them as part of drills to respond to annual US-South Korean military exercises, according to a statement yesterday published by the official Korean Central News Agency.

Nuclear test

Kim Jong-un’s government “is fully ready for next-stage steps which the enemy can hardly imagine in case the US considers them as a ‘provocation’,” the foreign ministry said in the statement. “It would not rule out a new form of nuclear test for bolstering up its nuclear deterrence.”

North Korea’s warning came even as South Korean president Park Geun-hye proposed building closer links with the North to spur reunification in a speech delivered on March 28th, and last month the two nations held the first reunions in more than three years of families separated by the Korean War.

The North rejected the South’s offer earlier this month to make family reunions regular.

South Korea sees no sign of an imminent nuclear test or long-range missile firing, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do said in a briefing earlier today. North Korea has conducted three atomic tests including in February last year.

Bloomberg