North and South Korea Exchange Fire at Land Border

North Korean and South Korean military units exchanged gunfire near their border Friday, South Korean authorities said. No casualties were reported. The exchange happened after North Korean forces fired two rounds from a 14.5 millimeter machine gun at a South Korean military guard post near the border town of Chorwon, South Korea, about 73 miles (118 km) northeast of Seoul, according to an official at the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The South Korean unit responded with three “warning shots” from a .50-caliber machine gun and warned the North Korean guard post by loudspeaker to desist, the official said. The demilitarized zone at the location of the shooting is 1.3 kilometres (0.8 miles) wide. Chorwon was the scene of heavy fighting during the 1950-53 Korean War.

A spokesperson for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said that no South Koreans were hurt in the exchange of fire, AFP reports. “There were no more shots afterwards. We are no closely watching their movements,” the unnamed spokesperson said. (BBC)

The BBC’s John Sudworth, in Seoul, said that the exchange appears to have been a small incident which did not cause any damage. South Korean officials are not ruling out the possibility that the initial shot from the northern side of the border was accidental rather than deliberate, the BBC correspondent added.

The South’s defence ministry said in a statement that none of its troops were hurt, and there had been “no more unusual activity by the North.” (Reuters) A South Korean military official said the army had been put on heightened alert. The official said he had not received any communications from the North.

Earlier on Friday the North warned that relations with its neighbour would face a “catastrophic impact” if South Korea continued to reject talks aimed at easing tension. (BBC) The first round of discussion in two years ended without progress in September after Seoul demanded an apology from Pyongyang for the warship sinking. “When looking back on the history of the North-South relations, it is very hard to find a precedent in which one party rejected the talks proposed by the other party even when the bilateral relations reached the lowest ebb,” the North’s KCNA state news agency reported. “This was because the rejection of dialogue precisely meant confrontation and war.” (Reuters)

The gunfire exchange apparently won’t cancel reunions of families separated by the Korean War, which ended in a truce but no formal peace treaty. The weeklong reunions begin Saturday at Mount Kumgang, the two countries’ joint mountain resort in the North. North Korea has requested record shipments of rice and fertilizer in exchange for concessions on the reunions, the South Korean Yonhap news agency reported earlier this week. Earlier this week, the South Korean government sent its first delivery of aid to the North in more than two years.

While there are occasional shooting incidents across the demilitarized zones, the tensest flash point on the peninsula in recent years has been the disputed maritime border in the Yellow Sea.

There were fatal naval clashes there in 1999 and 2002. In March this year, the sinking of a South Korean vessel killed 26 in what a South Korean and international investigation team concluded was a North Korean torpedo attack. North Korea continues to deny involvement.

The prickly relationship between the countries since the Korean War has had periodic conciliatory moves and flare-ups. Friday’s incident occurred two weeks before the G-20 summit in Seoul. The G-20 includes industrialized nations and developing economies, which focus on economic issues and economic policy coordination. Authorities said a total of 50,000 police and riot police will be deployed during the summit on November 11 and 12, according to Yonhap.

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