North and South Korea exchanged fire on the west coast on Monday. Both have accused each other of violating maritime boundaries amid ongoing heightened military tensions. Reuters news.

The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said a North Korean commercial vessel crossed the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the conventional maritime boundary, at around 3:40 a.m. local time on Monday. They warned the ship to leave and later fired warning shots.

The North’s military said it fired 10 rocket artillery after a South Korean navy ship violated its territorial waters and fired warning shots ‘under the pretext of tracking an unidentified vessel’.

A spokesman for the General Staff of the North Korean People’s Army said, ‘We ordered the initial countermeasures to resolutely repel the enemy warships.’

The JCS called the North’s move a violation of the 2018 bilateral military agreement. The agreement banned ‘hostile activities’ in the border area and called for an end to ‘future provocations and accusations’.

Since the 1990s, Pyongyang has disputed the NLL, created at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. It should be far away from the southern border, they claim.

A South Korean military official said they conducted a “normal operation” on border infiltration and rejected the North’s demands for a response to the NLL.

The latest incident of exchange of fire took place in a tense situation. This year the North has carried out a series of weapons tests at an unprecedented pace.

In recent weeks, North Korea has repeatedly fired short-range ballistic missiles and hundreds of artillery pieces from its east and west coasts in protest at South Korea’s military activities.

South Korean troops last week began their annual Hoguk defense drills, which are scheduled to run until Oct. 28 and are planned to enhance their own and joint capabilities with the United States to counter the North’s nuclear and missile threats.

South Korea’s navy said on Monday it would hold a four-day exercise off the west coast as part of the program. They will bring together around 20 warships, including Aegis-equipped destroyers and US assets such as Apache attack helicopters and A-10s.

Pyongyang reacted angrily to the drills, calling them provocative and threatening countermeasures. Seoul and Washington say they are on the defensive and will conduct exercises aimed at deterring the North.

(24 October)