Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
The DPRK representative to the North-South military talks denied that the KPA fired artillery shells near the NLL. The DPRK claimed that the noises heard by ROK forces were explosions from ongoing construction projects in South Hwanghae Province. Xinhua reports:
South Korea on Thursday dismissed a claim by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) that it did not fire artillery shells into waters near a western sea border a day ago.
On Wednesday, South Korea fired shots in response to what it said was a sound of artillery shells presumably fired by the DPRK, one of which fell near the disputed maritime border Pyongyang refuses to acknowledge.
Pyongyang later claimed through its state media that what Seoul heard was an explosion at a construction site, but the defense ministry here told Xinhua on Thursday such an ungrounded claim is “not worthy of a response.”
The maritime border in question was the scene of a deadly exchange of fire last November between the two Koreas. The incident, which Pyongyang said was provoked by a military drill between Seoul and Washington, killed four South Koreans.
The DPRK’s firing of artillery shells occurred while ROK media reported of an assassination plot targeting ROK Defense Minister, Kim Kwang-jin. Choe Sang-hun wrote in the New York Times:
The South Korean military’s Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff said it believed that one of the shells landed at the Northern Limit Line, a border drawn by the United Nations at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. The South accepts and patrols the line, but the North rejects it, insisting on a border line farther south.
South Korea responded by broadcasting a warning and then firing three artillery shells on the northern line.
At 7:46 p.m., North Korea fired two more shells, one of them hitting the water close to the northern line, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. In response, South Korean marines fired three artillery rounds on that area.
“We fired to warn them,” said a Defense Ministry spokesman, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity. “We are watching the situation carefully and maintain our readiness.”
But North Korea accused the South Korean military of mistaking construction noise for artillery, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported. “It was a tragicomedy that they indiscriminately reacted to what happened with counter-shelling even without confirming the truth about the case in the sensitive waters,” the news agency reported.
The South Korean military has maintained high vigilance since North Korea fired dozens of artillery shells at Yeonpyeong last November, killing two marines and two civilians. At the time, South Korea responded with an artillery attack on North Korea.
The attack on Yeonpyeong and the sinking of a South Korean warship in March last year chilled inter-Korean relations to their lowest point in years. South Korea blames a North Korean torpedo attack for the ship’s sinking, which killed 46 South Korean sailors. North Korea denied responsibility.
North and South Korea remain technically at war; they suspended hostilities in 1953 with a cease-fire rather than a peace treaty. The two sides have never agreed on a western sea border, subjecting the waters around Yeonpyeong to rival claims and occasional military clashes. Hundreds of South Korean fishermen operating in the waters have been taken into custody by the North Korean Navy. The two navies fought skirmishes in 1999, 2002 and 2009.
Earlier Wednesday, South Korean news media reported that the Seoul authorities were searching for an assassination squad assigned by North Korea to murder the South Korean defense minister, Kim Kwan-jin. But neither the Defense Ministry nor the government’s main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, would confirm or deny the reports. North Korea, which had earlier threatened to “execute” Mr. Kim for his hawkish remarks, had not yet reacted to the news reports.