North and South Korean warships exchange fire (Lead)November 10th, 2009 - 2:46 pm ICT by IANS
Seoul, Nov 10 (DPA) Warships belonging to North and South Korea clashed off their west coasts Tuesday, a spokesman for the defence ministry in Seoul said, adding that it remained unclear whether there were any casualties.
A North Korean patrol ship crossed the Northern Limit Line, the countries’ disputed maritime border in the Yellow Sea, prompting a naval vessel from the South to fire warning shots, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported, citing unnamed naval and defence ministry officials in Seoul.
The North Korean ship returned fire near Baekryeong Island, a defence official told Yonhap.
A naval official said there were no reports of South Korean casualties.
“It wasn’t a close-range battle,” the naval official was quoted as saying. “We fired heavily on the North Korean vessel.”
“It is our initial assessment that the North Korean boat suffered considerable damage,” he said.
After a short engagement, the North Korean ship sailed back to its side of the Northern Limit Line, Yonhap reported.
State-run media in North Korea did not report on the battle.
“Today’s clash took place as the North Korean side disregarded our verbal warnings and warning shots and directly attacked our speedboats,” Yonhap quoted South Korean Prime Minister Chung Un Chan as saying in parliament.
Chung characterised the battle as an “accidental clash”.
“We are analysing the motive for the North Korean boat’s crossing,” Yonhap quoted an unnamed government official in Seoul as saying. “We do not rule out the possibility that the clash may have been accidental.”
Deadly sea battles took place between the two Koreas in 1999 and 2002 near the Northern Limit Line. Tuesday’s skirmish was the first in seven years.
North Korea does not recognise the border, which was established unilaterally by a US general at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. That war ended with a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving both Koreas still technically at war.
Relations between the impoverished Stalinist North and capitalist South, which has Asia’s fourth-largest economy, have deteriorated since conservative President Lee Myung Bak took office in South Korea in February 2008.
A cautious rapprochement had taken place, however, in the past several months, but in mid-October, North Korea accused its neighbour of sending warships into its territorial waters in the Yellow Sea. The North’s navy threatened military action if there was a repeated violation of its border.
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Tags: deadly sea, defence ministry, exchange fire, initial assessment, korean casualties, korean ship, korean side, koreas, ministry officials, naval vessel, patrol ship, peace treaty, s crossing, sea battles, speedboats, verbal warnings, warning shots, west coasts, yellow sea, yonhap news agency