North and South Korea in artillery exchange

South fires back at North over propaganda broadcasts at border.

South Korea fired tens of artillery rounds toward North Korea yesterday after the North launched shells to protest South Korea’s anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts along the border, as tension escalated on the peninsula.

North Korea did not return fire but later warned Seoul in a letter that it would take military action if the South did not stop the loudspeaker broadcasts within 48 hours, the South’s Defense Ministry said.

In a separate letter, Pyongyang said it was willing to offer an opening to resolve the conflict even though it considers the broadcasts a declaration of war, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said.

A South Korean military official said the broadcasts, which began on August 10, would continue.

No damage or injuries were reported in the South.

South Korean president Park Geun-hye told top defence officials to “react firmly” to North Korean provocations, a spokesman quoted her as saying.

South Korea’s military, which said it fired 155 mm artillery rounds in response, raised its alert status to the highest level.

“Our military has stepped up monitoring and is closely watching North Korean movements,” South Korea’s defense ministry said.

There was no mention of the firing in isolated North Korea’s state media, which does not typically make immediate comment on events.

The United States, which has about 28,500 troops in South Korea, said it was concerned and closely monitoring the situation.

“Such provocative actions heighten tensions, and we call on Pyongyang to refrain from actions and rhetoric that threaten regional peace and security,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Katina Adams said.

The first North Korean shell landed in an area about 60km north of Seoul in the western part of the border zone, the defense ministry said. Nearly 800 South Korean residents living close to the border were ordered to evacuate and stay in shelters, according to officials from Gyeonggi province and the city of Incheon.

The exchange of fire was the first between the two Koreas since last October, when North Korean soldiers approached the military border and did not retreat after the South fired warning shots, the South Korean Defense Ministry said at the time. The North’s soldiers fired back in an exchange of gunfire that lasted about 10 minutes, with no casualties.

Tension between the two Koreas has risen since early this month when landmine explosions in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) of the border wounded two South Korean soldiers. Seoul accused North Korea of laying the mines, which Pyongyang has denied.


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