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Koreas trade cross-border fire

DMZ
The Korean Demilitarized Zone is the world's most heavily guarded frontier  


SEOUL, South Korea -- North and South Korean have briefly exchanged fire across their heavily armed border.

Officials in Seoul say two or three shots were fired from a North Korean post in Paju county on Tuesday, across the border that separates them.

South Korean soldiers returned fire but no one was hurt and there were "no unusual Northern military movements," the South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) told Reuters news agency.

A South Korean defense ministry spokesman said the exchange of fire was the first this year, while the country's media said the last such incident took place in June 1998.

Incidents are unusual but not unprecedented along the so-called Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), which is guarded on both sides by a total of some 1.8 million troops, including many of the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

But the shooting comes at a critical period during stalled reconciliation efforts between the two countries.

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Capitalist South Korea and the communist North are still technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean conflict, which ended in an armed truce.

Despite a flurry of activities between the two states in a bid to boost relations on the divided peninsula, ties between the two are now strained.

Last month, North Korea put all projects with the South on hold, saying the emergency anti-terrorism measures Seoul implemented after the September 11 attacks had ruined the atmosphere for North-South cooperation.

'Military provocation'

North Korea did not comment on the incident, but its state media said the South had "committed a military provocation by introducing two combat armored cars into the Demilitarised Zone" on Monday.

The report by the North's state-run Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) followed several state broadcasts last week accusing the South of deploying 105 mm howitzers in the zone.

That report was dismissed by South Korea, which said the South's military does not have that weapon in its arsenal.

Tuesday's exchange of fire comes as the United States has intensified its scrutiny of North Korea's suspected weapons of mass destruction, including biological war capabilities, as part of U.S. efforts to combat terrorism.

U.S. President George W. Bush told reporters on Monday that Washington wanted North Korea to allow inspectors to determine whether they have been producing weapons of mass destruction and to "stop proliferating" such weapons.



 
 
 
 


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