SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North and South Korea exchanged warning shots Monday along their disputed western sea border — a scene of past bloodshed and naval battles — in a development that echoes North Korea’s recent weapons showdown. raises the concern of potential conflicts after experimentation.

South Korea’s navy broadcast a warning and fired warning shots at 3:42 a.m. to turn away a North Korean merchant ship that violated its maritime boundaries, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

North Korea’s military said its coastal defense units responded by firing 10 rounds of artillery warning shots toward its territorial waters, where “an enemy naval movement was detected.” It has accused a South Korean ship of entering North Korean waters under the pretext of cracking down on an unidentified ship.

No fighting has been reported, but the maritime border off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula has been the subject of long-standing hostilities. The U.S.-led United Nations Command established a demarcation at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, but North Korea insists on a border that reaches deep into waters controlled by the South. Deadly incidents in the region include North Korea’s shelling of a South Korean island and the alleged torpedoing of a South Korean navy ship in 2010. 50 South Koreans were killed in both attacks.

Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at South Korea’s private Sejong Institute, said North Korea may have deliberately planned the infiltration of its ship because of its attack on a North Korean merchant ship a day earlier. It would be “unthinkable” to cross that threshold without permission. Army of the North

Cheong said North Korea is increasingly emboldened by its recent missile tests, which it said simulated the use of tactical nuclear weapons to strike South Korean and US targets. He noted that Pyongyang will also find that Washington’s strained relations with Russia and China make it more difficult for the United States to seek cooperation from the two regional powers on North Korea.

“The South Korean military needs to fully prepare to prevent fresh clashes in the West Sea and prevent worst-case scenarios such as the North Korean military’s artillery bombardment of a South Korean border island,” Cheong said. It needs to be stopped.”

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday’s North Korean artillery fire violated the 2018 inter-Korean agreement to reduce military hostilities and destabilize the Korean Peninsula. It said North Korean missiles had not landed in South Korean waters, but South Korea was ramping up its military preparations.

The General Staff of the North Korean People’s Army accused South Korea of ​​inciting hostilities along its land border as well as with its artillery tests and propaganda loudspeaker broadcasts. South Korea has already confirmed that it fired artillery last week as part of its regular military exercises, but has denied that it repeated the loudspeaker broadcasts. has started which the two Koreas had stopped under the 2018 agreement.

“The KPA General Staff once again sends a stern warning to the enemies who have also launched a naval intervention in the wake of recent provocations such as artillery fire and loudspeaker broadcasts on the land front,” the North’s statement said.

North Korea has said its recent weapons tests, including nuclear-capable missiles and artillery shells, were in response to joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States, which it views as an attack drill.

Some observers say North Korea could ramp up its testing, conduct its first nuclear test in five years, or launch provocations near the Western Sea border or elsewhere as South Korean and U.S. forces conduct their joint military exercises. Military exercises continue.

“Pyongyang’s politics of blaming external threats and showing confidence in military capabilities may encourage more risk-taking,” said Leif Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “North Korea’s probe into South Korea’s perimeter defenses could lead to heavy fire and unintended escalation.”

The South Korean military is currently conducting its annual field exercises, which this year include US troops. As part of the drills, South Korean and U.S. militaries began a large-scale, four-day firing exercise off the peninsula’s west coast on Monday. The drills will mobilize South Korean destroyers and fighter jets and US helicopters and planes, the South Korean navy said in a statement.

Washington and Seoul have scaled back or canceled their regular drills with North Korea in recent years to support their passive nuclear diplomacy or to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. But allies have been reviving or expanding the drills since the May inauguration of conservative South Korean President Yoon Seok-yul, who vows to get tough on North Korean provocations.

Next week, South Korea and the United States will hold joint air force exercises involving about 240 warplanes, including the two countries’ F-35 fighter jets. According to the South Korean military, the purpose of the drills is to test the joint operation capabilities of the two countries and improve combat readiness.

Some experts say North Korea’s experience also shows that its leader, Kim Jong-un, has no intention of resuming stalled nuclear diplomacy with Washington anytime soon as he continues to develop his nuclear arsenal. Want to focus on modernization to leverage future negotiations with the US. .

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