Amid tensions with S. Korea, N. Korea fires artillery into the sea

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 9, 2010; 8:35 AM

SEOUL -- North Korea on Monday fired roughly 110 rounds of artillery into the sea off its west coast -- the latest fist-shaking response by leaders in Pyongyang to South Korea's massive military exercises.

The artillery shells landed in the North's waters, causing no harm.

South Korea views the firing as part of a military drill by North Korea, a South Korean Joint Chief of Staff officer told the Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said South Korean forces are on guard for further actions by Pyongyang.

The firing of the artillery, which threatens to further raise tensions along the 38th Parallel, came shortly after South Korea concluded five days of naval drills -- something the North had threatened to counter with "strong physical retaliation."

The move stands as yet another sign of the gaping divide between the North and South, who've exchanged months of threats and hard-line talk since the March sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, in which 46 South Korean sailors were killed.

(See video of ceremonies marking the anniversary last week of the 1953 truce that ended the Korean War.)

The North has denied responsibility for the torpedo attack, but Seoul and Washington have repeatedly blamed North Korea for it.

Sunday, the North seized a South Korean fishing boat some 160 miles off its border to the east, in the Sea of Japan. South Korea has demanded a release of the seven fishermen -- four are South Koreans; three are Chinese -- but the North has yet to respond.

The United States and South Korea are due to conduct further joint military drills later this month. Last week the Pentagon confirmed that those drills will include use of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the USS George Washington, despite strong Chinese objections.

North Korea's artillery fire occurred near the spot of several previous disputes, including one last November, when South and North naval vessels exchanged gunfire. The badly damaged North Korean vessel retreated in flames.

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