The North had flagged its intentions to conduct the exercise
in response to U.N. condemnation of last week's missile launches
by Pyongyang and against what it says are threatening military
drills in the South by U.S. forces.
North Korea also accused the South of "gangster-like" behavior
at the weekend by "abducting" one of its fishing boats and
threatened to retaliate. The South said it had sent the boat
back after it drifted into its waters.
More than 100 North Korean shells out of 500 or so fired landed
in South Korean waters, prompting marines from the South to fire
back with more than 300 rounds in the North's waters, defense
officials in Seoul said.
Seoul also scrambled F-15s on its side of the maritime border,
"We believe the North's maritime firing is a planned provocation
and an attempt to test our military's determination to defend
the Northern Limit Line and to get an upper hand in South-North
relations," South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok
The Northern Limit Line, a maritime border that wraps itself
round a part of the North's coastline, has been the scene of
frequent clashes and in 2010, four people were killed when North
Korea shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong.
"It's up to the two militaries either to recognize or reject
their own claimed line, and challenge the other's — this goes
back and forth, so this is probably another episode of that,"
said Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group.
Earlier in 2010, a South Korean naval vessel was sunk close to
the line by what an international commission said was a North
Korean torpedo, although the North denies involvement.
The line was drawn up at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War and
North Korea does not recognize it. The two sides are still
technically at war as the conflict ended in a mere truce, not a
The residents of Baengnyeong island, one of the remote islands
close to the firing area, were evacuated to bomb shelters as a
precaution, a government official said by telephone.
North Korea has ratcheted up its rhetoric in recent weeks and
conducted a series of missile launches, mostly short range, in
response to what it sees as the threat posed by a series of
joint U.S.-South Korean military drills that are held annually.
The current drill called Foal Eagle ends on April 18.
"At a time that South Korea and the United States are conducting
military exercises using sophisticated equipment, the North is
unlikely to be reckless enough to do anything that will lead to
a sharp worsening of situation," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor
at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
"There is an element of trying to show displeasure at the South
Korea-U.S. drills and to pressure the South, but it doesn't seem
the North wants this to blow up into something bigger."
China, which hosted several rounds of now-defunct multilateral
talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear weapons program,
nevertheless said it was concerned at the exchange of fire and
called for restraint from both sides.
"The temperature is rising at present on the Korean peninsula,
and this worries us," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said
He added that China was also concerned by the North's threat to
carry out more nuclear tests.
North Korea threatened nuclear strikes against the South and the
United States last year after the United Nations tightened
sanctions against it for conducting its third nuclear test.
Financial markets in South Korea were unmoved by the latest
developments with the stock market's benchmark KOSPI turning
higher from early losses to finish up 0.2 percent and the won
extending gains to end onshore trade up 0.4 percent against the
(Additional reporting by James Pearson, Ju-min Park, Choonsik
Yoo and Narae Kim in Seoul and Megha Rajagopalan in Beijing;
editing by Nick Macfie)
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