SEOUL: North Korea fired artillery rounds into the sea off its west coast on Monday, a South Korean military official said, heightening tension on the divided peninsula.
YTN cable news channel reported dozens of rounds were fired into the North’s waters near the border with the South soon after a South Korean naval exercise off the west coast officially ended at 5 p.m. “All we know is that North Korea fired artillery rounds into its sea off the west coast, but we have no more details as of now,” Lieutenant-Commander Yu Jae-il at the Joint Chiefs of Command in Seoul said by telephone.
Tension has mounted on the peninsula this year after the sinking of a South Korean warship and a series of military drills. At the weekend, a South Korean fishing boat was detained by a North Korean patrol.
Earlier on Monday, the United Nations Command said North Korean military officials had agreed to a colonel-level meeting at the Panmunjom truce village that straddles the border between the two Koreas. Tuesday’s meeting will be the fourth such talks in a month.
It said the meetings were being held to discuss the date, agenda and protocols for general-level talks on armistice issues related to the sinking of the Cheonan corvette in March, in which 46 sailors were killed.
South Korea, backed by the United States, blames the North for torpedoing the ship. North Korea denies any involvement.
In recent weeks, North Korea and its only powerful ally China have criticised a series of military drills by the United States and South Korea off the divided peninsula.
The South was due to complete an independent exercise on Monday, and will conduct more joint exercise with the United States next week.
Beijing says the joint drills threaten both to its security and regional stability. It has also made public its own recent military drills, events normally kept secret
Adding to tension on the peninsula, the North last Sunday seized a South Korean fishing vessel with seven people on board off its east coast.
The Unification Ministry said it had not received any word from the North about the capture.
“The government has urged the North to deal quickly with the case and release our crew members and their boat in accordance with the international law and practices,” ministry spokesman Mr Chun Hae-sung told reporters.