Koreas again exchange gunfire near border

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Koreas again exchange gunfire near border

Military tensions between the two Koreas escalated further yesterday as the two sides exchanged gun shots near the border north of Seoul.

The two Koreas exchanged fire near the border inside the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Paju, northern Gyeonggi. No casualties were reported from the South Korean side.

The incident took place about 6 kilometers away (3.7 miles) from the truce village of Panmunjom. Tourists and farmers near the area were evacuated after the two sides exchanged gun fire. Amid growing concerns about recently escalated military tensions near the two nations’ land and maritime borders, a senior presidential aide for national security expressed his optimism yesterday that both Koreas will have high-level government contact as agreed.

“Because the two Koreas agreed [on high-level talks] during a luncheon on the final day of the Incheon Asian Games, I believe they will take place as scheduled,” Ju Chul-ki, senior secretary for foreign affairs and national security, said yesterday during a briefing at the Blue House.

The North dispatched a delegation of top-level officials on Oct. 4 that met with the South’s top national security officials, including Kim Kwan-jin, head of the Blue House National Security Office.

At the meeting, the two Koreas agreed to resume high-level government talks.

The first round of dialogue took place in February, though no follow-up meeting has been held since. Pyongyang has yet to respond to Seoul’s proposal on Monday to hold high-level talks on Oct. 30.

Ju also dismissed criticism yesterday that the Park Geun-hye administration had failed to maintain transparency in dealing with North Korea. After the two nations had military contact on Wednesday, Seoul has kept its silence on the meeting.

Pyongyang, however, disclosed details about the talks later on Thursday and said the future of the high-level government contact is in danger.

When asked about the president’s mention at recent international events of issues related to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and human rights abuses, Ju said: “These are not only matters of concern for the two Koreas, but also matters of the international community, and the North has responded actively to those rights issues.”

Park’s remarks should be understood as recommendations to the North, he added. “She was urging North Korea to improve its human rights conditions and resolve the nuclear issue for its economic development,” Ju said.

In commentary on Friday at the Asia-Europe Meeting in Milan, the president criticized North Korea for initiating provocations while proposing talks. She also urged the reclusive state to end its nuclear program and improve its human rights record.

Pyongyang responded angrily, complaining that Park spoiled a rare opportunity for inter-Korean reconciliation.

But while Ju presented a sanguine forecast for the planned high-level government meeting, tensions between the two Koreas escalated over the weekend after South Korea fired warning shots toward a group of North Korean soldiers during a reconnaissance mission on Saturday near the eastern inter-Korean border.

According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the North Koreans retreated without engagement after seven hours and 30 minutes of reconnaissance activities near the border.

The military stated that about 10 North Korean soldiers approached the border inside the demilitarized zone in Gangwon’s northern Cheorwon County.

The mission lasted from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., the South Korean military said.

“Because they approached the military demarcation line several times, the South Korean military broadcast warnings and fired,” an official from the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

The North Korean soldiers neither crossed the border nor returned fire. “Without any engagement, they went back to the North around 4 p.m.,” he said.

“North Korean soldiers occasionally approach the military demarcation line and check on signposts and try to create passageways in the area,” said a military official. “And the South’s military also makes broadcasts and fires warning shots to counter them. We already had similar incidents several times this year.”

On Oct. 7, an inter-Korean sea skirmish took place in the western waters near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the de facto maritime border between the two. It was the first time in five years that the two sides exchanged multiple rounds of fire.

Tensions escalated further when the North fired antiaircraft rounds on Oct. 10 toward South Korean civic groups that launched balloons carrying material critical of the North Korean regime.

After shots fell in Yeoncheon, northern Gyeonggi, the South returned fire.

BY SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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