Two Koreas in naval clash

Gunfire raises tension days before President Obamas Asia visit

 
North Korea has often used military action to force its way onto the agenda of major diplomatic events and has been seeking direct talks with Obama’s administration while alarming global powers last week by saying it had produced more arms-grade plutonium.

The United States will announce in the next few days whether it will start direct talks with the North which could kickstart a fresh round of talks with regional powers on nuclear disarmament, a US official said earlier.

South Korea denounced what it said was an incursion by a North Korean patrol vessel into its territorial waters in the Yellow Sea that sparked a brief firefight near the spot where the two Koreas have had two deadly conflicts in the past decade. There were no casualties in the incident that left a South Korean vessel pockmarked with about a dozen gunshots and apparently a North Korean patrol vessel heavily damaged, military officials said.

“North Korea is taking this aggressive stance to show they are not backing down on their security,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the South’s University of North Korean Studies. The North’s sabre rattling is often seen by analysts as an means to increase its leverage in negotiations. It accused the South of starting the latest fray.

Apology sought

“The South Korean military authorities should make an apology to the North side for the armed provocation,” the North’s KCNA news agency quoted a military official as saying. The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said a North Korean patrol vessel went about 1.3 km into the waters claimed by the South.

The South issued verbal warnings and fired warning shots. The North responded by opening fire on the South’s vessel. “We fired back,” the South said in a statement, adding the North’s vessel then retreated.

North Korea in the past year has threatened to attack the South’s ships if they come near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), a Yellow Sea border set unilaterally by the US-led UN forces at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War that the North sees as invalid.  The two Koreas are technically still at war because their conflict ended with a ceasefire and not a peace treaty.

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