October 08, 2014 09:32
North and South Korean naval vessels exchanged fire on Tuesday after a North Korean patrol boat crossed the maritime border.
The clash occurred just three days after a high-level North Korean delegation made a rare visit to South Korea to attend the closing ceremony of the Incheon Asian Games and was the first such skirmish in five years.
According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a North Korean patrol boat strayed around 900 m south of the Northern Limit Line at around 9:50 a.m. A 570-ton Navy battleship issued a warning, which the North Korean patrol boat ignored, prompting the South to fire a warning shot. The North Korean vessel did not turn back but fired back instead.
A JCS official said, "The North Korean patrol boat fired dozens of rounds from what appears to have been heavy machine guns and our ship returned by firing around 10 rounds of 76-mm shells and around 80 rounds from 40-mm guns."
The exchange of fire lasted about 10 minutes before the North Korean patrol boat headed back. Neither side suffered any damage.
The Navy reportedly fired flares to thwart a potential North Korean missile or artillery attack. The flares interfere with radar signature so that missiles cannot lock onto targets.
A Defense Ministry official here said the provocation "was a highly calculated move and cannot be viewed as a spontaneous incident."
North Korea has frequently resorted to military provocations even amid an apparent thaw between the two sides. Military officers here believe North Korea violated the NLL in order to gauge the South Korean response and gain leverage in upcoming high-level meetings.
One military source said, "North Korea is probably trying to pressure South Korea to become more active in pursuing high-level talks now that it's taken the initiative in improving strained relations" with the visit of the top officials.
The source added the North may also be trying to highlight the need to ease military tensions in upcoming talks.
That would give it the opportunity to raise the issue of the NLL, which was unilaterally drawn by the Americans after the Korean War and is not recognized by the North.
Pyongyang is forever trying to wrangle an end to joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises so close to its own coast and prevent activists in the South from floating propaganda leaflets across the border. Seoul does not wish to discuss those issues.
But other experts believe the latest incursion was more saber-rattling from hardliners in the unruly North Korean military, who resent signs of a thaw.
One military analyst said, "If this was an act of defiance against [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un's wish to resume dialogue, there may be a problem with the command structure in the North."
One officer said, "Judging by North Korea's past behavior, the most dangerous periods have always been when the two Koreas began to resume contact."
A Unification Ministry official said the government is "looking into" an appropriate response. Another ministry official expressed concern. "The military responded according to their rules of engagement. I hope that the latest incident doesn't have a negative impact on upcoming high-level inter-Korean talks" scheduled for late October or early November.
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