ROK, DPRK exchange artillery fire

Updated: 2011-08-11 07:08

(China Daily)

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Incident begins when three rounds land in waters off Yeonpyeong Island

Seoul - The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Wednesday evening fired three rounds of artillery near its disputed Yellow Sea border with the Republic of Korea (ROK), Yonhap news agency said, in the second such incident in one day.

The agency had received its information from residents, and there was no immediate official confirmation. Earlier on Wednesday, ROK Marines fired warning shots after a DPRK shell landed near the sea border.

An ROK Defense Ministry official said the first rounds of shells fired by the DPRK landed in the waters off Yeonpyeong Island, but it was not clear whether it was inside the ROK's territorial waters. Yonhap said the ROK fired back with its artillery.

"Three shots were heard. One shell landed near the Northern Limit Line (NLL)," Yonhap quoted a military official as saying.

Yeonpyeong Island straddles the contested NLL and was the site of a deadly attack in 2010, the first assault on a civilian area since the Korean War (1950-1953).

An unidentified government official quoted by Yonhap said: "One shot (from the DRPK) crossed the NLL, but I don't think it's something serious".

Yonhap said the shelling started around 2 pm local time.

Explaining why the ROK took an hour to respond, a defence official said: "We could not get visual confirmation about where the DPRK's shells landed, and we needed to use equipment to assess where they landed."

ROK officials did not specify where the ROK fired from, but it appeared to be from a marine unit based on the island.

After the initial exchange of fire, an ROK Defense Ministry spokesman said: "The situation is now stable. After we fired back, there was no further response from the DRPK. We are still on alert."

Fishing boats in the vicinity were called to port, and Yeonpyeong residents were evacuated to emergency shelters, media reports said.

The boundary line was the scene of deadly naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and November 2009. In November, the DPRK shelled Yeonpyeong, killing four people from the ROK, two of them civilians.

The DPRK said it was responding to an ROK artillery drill, which encroached upon its waters.

Wednesday's incident came after the DPRK made apparent peace overtures and expressed interest in restarting the stalled Six-Party Talks.

Envoys from the DPRK and ROK held rare talks in Bali last month, and a senior DPRK official visited New York later for discussions with US officials.

The first artillery fire seemed more like an intentional strategy of the DPRK than a simple accident, according to Zhang Liangui, a Beijing-based expert on Korean studies.

As the DPRK is facing growing domestic difficulties in dealing with its food shortage and recent flooding, it wants to put more pressure on Lee Myung-bak's government as a way to leverage more aid, according to Zhang.

"The incident is also intended to 'produce tension' so as to put more pressure on the United States," he told China Daily.

China was closely watching for further developments in the incident, but it is not likely to escalate further because there were no casualties and the situation did not deteriorate, said Ma Dingsheng, a commentator for Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV, in an interview.

Zhang agreed. "After all, they know each other's bottom line too well," he said.

Reuters-AFP-China Daily

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