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North and South Korea exchange artillery volleys into the sea

The exchange, started by the North, took place in an area of sea that in November saw the last lethal flare-up between the two sides when North Korean shelling killed four people on Yeonpyeong Island.

August 10, 2011|By John M. Glionna and Jung-yoon Choi, Los Angeles Times
  • South Korean sailors approach the port in Yeonpyeong Island from their mobile base off the island.
South Korean sailors approach the port in Yeonpyeong Island from their… (Kim Jae-Hwan / Getty Images )

Reporting from Seoul — North Korea fired artillery shells that landed near the disputed maritime line in the Yellow Sea on Wednesday, prompting South Korea to respond by firing its own shells toward the North's sea border, officials said.

The shells landed in the water and no injuries were reported, officials said.

The afternoon exchange took place in an area of sea that in November saw the last lethal flare-up between the two sides when North Korean shelling killed four South Koreans on Yeonpyeong Island.

About 1 p.m. Wednesday, the North's shells landed near the so-called Northern Limit Line, according to military officials in Seoul. The South responded about an hour later with its three-shot volley.

"We haven't noticed any particular movements in the North Korean military but we're maintaining a defense posture," said a spokesman for South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.

South Korean forces have been on high alert since last fall's artillery attacks, which brought assurances from South Korean President Lee Myung-bak that his nation would beef up security in the area.

Officials in Seoul said they did not know where the other side's shells were fired from, but suspected that they came from one of North Korea's front-line islands bordering southern-controlled waters. They said the North's shelling came as a surprise as there were no known military drills going on in the area.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il often uses surprise to keep tension high along the land and sea borders that have separated the two sides since a truce was called in the Korean War in 1953.

North Korea has long maintained that the Northern Limit Line was mistakenly drawn, robbing the North of valuable fishing sites.

Experts downplayed the significance of Wednesday's development in the dispute.

"I don't think it's anything to be concerned about at this point," said Daniel Pinkston, deputy project director of the Northeast Asia Program for the nonprofit International Crisis Group.

Lee Dong-bok, a South Korean foreign affairs expert, agreed, pointing out that one of the North Korean shells may even have landed short of the maritime line.

"Currently, the North has been trying to create tension to threaten South Korea and the U.S. to get what they want," he said. "But this time they threw a weak punch."

john.glionna@latimes.com

Choi is a news assistant in The Times' Seoul bureau.

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