SEOUL, South Korea, AP
South Korean navy gunboats fired warning shots at a North Korean fishing vessel that briefly violated the South’s western sea border early Sunday, a government statement said.
The nine-ton North Korean vessel fled back across the border before dawn when two South Korean ships fired nine warning shots into the sea, said a statement from Seoul’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
It was one of the most serious border incursions since the two Koreas held their first-ever summit a year ago and agreed to work together to reconcile and promote national reunification.
Inter-Korea exchanges that flourished after the summit have come to a virtual standstill this year because of tension between the United States and North Korea.
The North Korean boat was first spotted 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) off Paeknyong-do, a South Korean island in the Yellow Sea.
South Korean navy boats caught up with the Northern ship after a 2 1/2-hour chase and tried to inspect it, the statement said.
But five sailors on the fishing boat threw torches and wielded wooden sticks and knives to ward off the navy boats, which came within 45 meters (50 yards), it said.
The North Korean ship retreated only after the South Korean patrol boats’ warning shots.
The North’s military made no moves during the tense exchange, it said.
The Korean peninsula was divided into the communist North and the pro-Western South at the end of World War II. They share the world’s most heavily armed border.
On May 27, a South Korean fishing boat came under fire from a North Korean patrol boat when it violated the North’s eastern border at night to recover a drifting fishing net. Several bullets hit the South Korean boat but no one was injured.
Sunday’s incident followed a series of incursions by North Korean commercial vessels into South Korean maritime territory early this month.
In 1999, North Korean navy gunboats repeatedly violated the western sea border, touching off the worst military clash since the 1950-53 Korean War. About 20 Northern sailors were believed killed and several South Korean sailors were wounded.