Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Border Skirmish Reported Off Coast of Korean Peninsula

The North Korean and South Korean governments are busy blaming the other for a naval gunbattle between their respective countries. The North claims that they repulsed an intrusion into a disputed area, while the South claims that the North Korean boat entered the disputed area and opened fire on the South Korean navy ships, which returned fire and set the North Korean ship ablaze:
he North claimed that a group of South Korean warships opened fire but fled after the North's patrol boat dealt "a prompt retaliatory blow." The statement, carried on the official Korean Central News Agency, said the South should apologize.

President Lee Myung-bak, who convened an emergency security meeting, ordered the South's defense minister to strengthen military readiness.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that a North Korean patrol boat crossed the disputed western sea border about 11:27 a.m. (0227 GMT), drawing warning shots from a South Korean navy vessel. The North Korean boat then opened fire and the South's ship returned fire before the North's vessel sailed back toward its waters, the statement said.

The clash occurred near the South-held island of Daecheong, about 120 nautical miles (220 kilometers) off the port city of Incheon, west of Seoul, the statement said.

The North Korean ship was seriously damaged in the skirmish, a Joint Chiefs of Staff officer said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy. Prime Minister Chung Un-chan told lawmakers the ship was on fire when it fled north.

Lee, the commodore, said the shooting lasted for about two minutes, during which the North Korean ship fired about 50 rounds at the South Korean vessel, about two miles (3.2 kilometers) away. He said the South Korean ship was lightly damaged.
While there is a clearly demarcated DMZ separating the two countries on land, the sea border is still an open question.

All this comes at a time when the North Koreans are preparing to receive a US representative for one-on-one talks. The Obama Administration had finally agreed to those direct talks. I suspect that the North Korean regime was looking to see what it could get away with prior to the talks commencing, to gain a measure of the Obama Administration's resolve and interest in talking.

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