January 28, 2010 09:15
North Korea fired around 100 rounds from coastal artillery positions and 240 mm multiple rocket launchers into waters near its maritime border with South Korea on Wednesday. It was the first time that North Korea fired rounds toward the Northern Limit Line, the de facto sea border separating the territorial waters, although the rounds landed on the North Korean side.
A navigation ban the North declared on Monday includes waters on the South Korean side of the NLL, but the firing seems to be "low-intensity provocation" aimed at turning the NLL into a matter of maritime dispute and drawing attention to the North's desire for a peace treaty to replace the ceasefire agreement that halted the Korean War in 1953.
South Korea offered a response of equally low intensity, firing around 100 warning shots from 20 mm Vulcan guns on Baeknyeong Island.
"No one can argue about the planned exercises staged by Korean People's Army units in waters of the north side," the North Korean General Staff said in the statement. "Such firing drill... will go on in the same waters in the future," it added. Any violation of South Korean territorial waters could escalate the tit-for-tat.
The North's artillery is lined up mostly along the western coast. The South considers them, as well as the Samlet and Silkworm surface-to-ship missiles with ranges of 83-95 km, threats to Baeknyeong, Yeonpyeong, Daecheong and other islands just south of the NLL, although they are not very accurate.
"Missiles can be hit with heavy machine guns and other armaments, but this is impossible to do with artillery rounds," said one South Korean Navy officer. "If North Korea fires a barrage of rounds from coastal artillery positions, even state-of-the-art naval vessels in our arsenal could become vulnerable."
A military official said North Korean coastal artillery used to be 76.2 mm or 100 mm in caliber, but since the late 1990s, they have been replaced with longer-range 122 mm and 130 mm placing the islands near the NLL within their range.
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