North Korea fired more than 200 artillery rounds on Friday near a disputed maritime border with South Korea in another escalation of tension between the rivals. Its military spokesman said it was responding to the South’s live-fire drills in what it called an “act of provocation.” No civilian or military casualties were in the South, but residents on two remote islands were ordered to take shelter.
The exchange occurred in waters just north of the de facto boundary set up last year by a tension-reducing deal that fell apart after the North’s spy satellite launch. The Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman, Lee Sung Joon, described it as an “act of provocation that threatens peace and heightens tensions on the Korean Peninsula.” He added that Seoul was closely monitoring the movements of the North’s troops in the area with the help of the United States.
Lee said the shelling occurred near Yeonpyeong and Baengnyeong, two sparsely populated South Korean islands just south of the sea border that marks their de facto maritime frontier. The islands have concrete and underground bomb shelters, and the residents are familiar with the routine of receiving instructions to evacuate to them during military drills by the North and when there is a threat of a missile attack. Ferry departures to the islands from Incheon, a port west of Seoul, were also canceled.
In his first televised appearance since the start of the year, Defense Minister Song Young-moo warned that Pyongyang could miscalculate if it thinks its claimed nuclear weapons allow it to control the pace of any armed conflict with South Korea. He said the South would “strongly punish” any provocative acts by North Korea.
The South’s military commenced counter-fire drills after the North’s initial firing round. The shells that landed in waters just north of the boundary were “deliberately targeted at the buffer zone created by the inter-Korean agreement,” the Ministry of Defence said in a statement.
It added that North Korea fired the round at about 9.30 a.m., after which the South’s military conducted “counter-fire and artillery drills” in the vicinity of its disputed maritime border with the North.