The moves come amid heightened friction over a spate of weapons tests by North Korea.
North and South Korea have exchanged warning shots off their west coast, accusing each other of violating their maritime border amid heightened tensions over Pyongyang’s weapons tests.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it sent alerts and fired warning shots to repel a North Korean merchant ship that crossed the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the de facto maritime border, around 3:40 a.m. local time Monday ( 18:40 GMT Sunday).
The North Korean military said it had fired 10 rounds of artillery warning shots into its territorial waters where “enemy naval movement was detected.” It accused a South Korean naval vessel of entering North Korean waters on the pretext of acting against an unidentified vessel.
“We ordered initial countermeasures to strongly repel the enemy warship by firing 10 shells from multiple rocket launchers near the waters where the enemy movement was taking place,” the North Korean People’s Army said in a statement from the official KCNA news agency.
JCS said the North Korean artillery fire violated a 2018 inter-Korean agreement to reduce military hostilities and undermined stability on the Korean peninsula. It said the North Korean shells did not land in South Korean waters, but it bolstered its military readiness.
There were no reports of clashes, but the poorly marked sea border off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula is a source of long-running hostilities between the two countries. It has been the scene of several bloody inter-Korean naval battles and violence in recent years, including North Korea’s shelling of a South Korean island and the alleged torpedo attack on a South Korean naval ship that killed 50 people in 2010.
The latest shootout came amid simmering tensions, with North Korea conducting weapons tests at an unprecedented pace this year.
In recent weeks, North Korea has repeatedly fired short-range ballistic missiles and deployed hundreds of artillery shells off its east and west coasts in protest at the military activities of its southern neighbor.
South Korean troops last week launched their annual Hoguk defense drills, scheduled to run through October 28, strengthening their own and joint capabilities with the United States to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. The two allies will also hold joint air force exercises next week involving some 240 fighter jets, including F-35 fighters, operated by both nations. The drills aim to inspect the two countries’ joint operational capabilities and improve combat readiness, the South Korean military said on Tuesday.
Pyongyang has reacted angrily to the exercises, calling them provocations and threatening countermeasures. Seoul and Washington say their drills are defensive and aimed at deterring North Korea.
“Pyongyang’s policy of blaming external threats and projecting confidence in military capabilities can motivate greater risk-taking,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “North Korean probes of South Korean perimeter defenses could lead to a serious exchange of fire and an unintended escalation.”