Koreas again ex­change gun­fire near bor­der

Sol­diers from North ap­proached mil­i­tary de­mar­ca­tion line

JoongAng Daily - - Front Page - BY SER MYO-JA

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 re- cently 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 fol­lowup 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 high­level 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 Ko- reas, 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.

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