BY STEVE HERMAN – North Korea denies it fired artillery rounds into the Yellow Sea on Wednesday. It says what South Korean military personnel and islanders heard was actually construction blasting inside North Korea. However, military officials in the South are not accepting that explanation.
South Korea said Wednesday its forces fired warning shots into the Yellow Sea after soldiers on a frontier island off the western coast heard North Korean artillery explosions.
South Korean military officials say three of the five North Korean shells splashed in waters close to the disputed Northern Limit Line.
North Korea’s state-run news agency Thursday quotes an unnamed military official in Pyongyang saying South Korea’s claim of what happened the day before is “sheer fiction.”
The officer says no shells were fired from the North and what those in the South heard were peaceful detonations in South Hwanghae Province for “brisk construction of a gigantic object aimed at improving the standard of people’s living.”
South Korea’s military Thursday bluntly dismissed the North’s version as false.
Research fellow Kim Jin-moo at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul sees a motive for Pyongyang firing artillery into the tense waters at this juncture.
Kim says it could be that North Korea was conducting an exercise and, because relations with the South are not progressing as Pyongyang desired, they want to raise tensions to put themselves in a more advantageous negotiating position.
Wednesday’s incident occurred near the de facto maritime border known as the Northern Limit Line. The region has long been a flashpoint because, in recent decades, Pyongyang has disputed the boundary and called for it to be farther south.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, responding to reporters in Seoul on Thursday, called the incident a pity.
Ban says such incidents as the one reported the previous day are also a serious worry coming more than 60 years after the end of the Korean War. He says the two Koreas need to engage in understanding and patient conversation. He adds that his native country, South Korea, as an economic power, should take the lead in the dialogue and cooperation.
The South and North technically remain at war as their devastating three-year civil conflict ceased in 1953 with an armistice, not a peace treaty.