North declares two ‘no-sail’ zones in Yellow Sea
“The North declared the no-sail zones in the waters south of the NLL in the Yellow Sea,” said a South Korean official. The Northern Limit Line is the de facto maritime border between the two Koreas. The North has challenged the border in the past and the latest naval skirmish in the area took place last November.
“We have activated close surveillance to see if the North’s no-sail zone declaration is a part of its winter military training or a preparation to test-fire a short-range missile,” the official said.
According to the source, two areas near the South’s Baeknyeong Island were designated by the North as no-sail zones from Monday until March 29. The no-sail zones include both Koreas’ waters.
It is the first time that the North included the South Korean waters in the no-sail zones, a possible indication that Pyongyang is attempting to challenge the Northern Limit Line using a new tactic. One of the two areas is where the two Koreas had a naval skirmish two months ago.
Another military official also confirmed the development, noting that South Korea is keeping a close eye on the area.
The Defense Ministry said it is looking into the matter and the military is ready for any situation.
According to sources, the North did not announce the no-sail zones through international maritime agency or maritime communication channels, but issued the warning through a Russian text service agency.
The warning came as the two Koreas plan to meet next Monday to discuss the pending issues associated with the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex. The North had also proposed to hold a round of working-level military talks related to the complex, although the date has yet to be finalized.
The North has given mixed signals to the South lately while proposing the talks. The North warned last week that it may fire weapons into the Yellow Sea near the disputed naval border on the west coast of the peninsula.
“The no-sail zones are probably in line with the North’s warning last week to fire weapons in the Yellow Sea,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at the Dongkuk University in Seoul. “If so, the North’s Navy will likely conduct a gunfire drill on the west coast or test-fire its arms toward the Yellow Sea to live up to its words.”
North Korea has routinely tested missiles, escalating tensions in the region. The last test was in October, when the North fired five short-range ground-to-ground missiles from a base on the east coast.
By Ser Myo-ja, Kim Min-seok [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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