North Korean fishing boats crossed over the Northern Limit Line in the West Sea, the de facto maritime border between the two Koreas, six times from Sept. 12 until Saturday. On Friday, the South Korean Navy issued two warnings over loudspeakers to six North Korean fishing boats and was forced to fire warning shots when the boats refused to turn back across the NLL. The fishing boats finally retreated 30 minutes after hearing the warning shots.
Some 13 North Korean fishing boats crossed over the NLL on Sept. 12, 13 on Sep. 14, eight on Sept. 15, and two on Thursday. Even on Saturday, a day after the South fired the warning shots, another fishing boat crossed the NLL into the South Korean waters.
North Korea added that any acts against it would lead to "strong responses."
Seoul believes that Pyongyang is ordering its fishing boats to cross over the NLL to provoke the South so that it can have an excuse to launch an attack. North Korea readied coastal artillery positions and patrol boats for action each time the fishing boats crossed the NLL.
The two Koreas agreed to the NLL at the end of the Korean War in 1953, but the North announced in 1973 that it would no longer accept the maritime border. In 1999, the North went further, claiming that the five South Korean islands on the West Sea are its own and unilaterally announcing its own maritime border further south.
In 2010, North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island, killing South Korean civilians and soldiers, and claimed the attack was provoked by South Korean artillery drills. It demanded that the area surrounding the NLL be turned into a "maritime peace zone" until a new maritime border is drawn up.
Former President Roh Moo-hyun agreed at the 2007 inter-Korean summit to designate a joint fishing zone in the West Sea and to hold defense ministerial talks to make it a "maritime peace zone." That agreement overturned a previous pact signed in 1992 in which the North acknowledged the NLL. That has made the NLL up to a point ineffective and gives North Korean ships an excuse to cross it, increasing the risk of the five West Sea islands coming under attack.
It seems North Korea has stepped up incursions to provoke an armed standoff in the West Sea that would divide public opinion and bring the NLL issue into focus less than three months before South Korean presidential election. South Korean politicians must not fall into this trap and should clearly state their position on the NLL.