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Report: Koreas exchange fire during North's military exercises

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Stella Kim, CNN
updated 1:20 AM EDT, Mon March 31, 2014
An unidentified North Korean missile is displayed during a military parade past Kim Il-Sung square on July 27, 2013.
An unidentified North Korean missile is displayed during a military parade past Kim Il-Sung square on July 27, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • North Korean military exercises see shelling into South Korean waters; South responds with artillery fire
  • North warned South it will conduct military exercises off the country's western coast
  • North Korea hints at further nuclear tests
  • Claim comes days after North's test-firing of medium-range missiles into the sea

(CNN) -- A day after raising the possibility of further nuclear tests, North Korea has engaged in provocative live-fire exercises near the South Korean maritime border, leading to an exchange of fire between the two neighbors.

Semi-official South Korean news agency Yonhap reported Monday that the North had begun the drill just after noon (local time). The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) confirmed that some North Korean ordnance landed in South Korean waters, and that the South responded with fire.

The JCS confirmed that the North Korean offshore military exercise began around 12:15 pm (local time) Monday, and said that "a part of North Korea's shelling reached South Korean side of the NLL and we (South Korea) responded with K-9 self-propelled guns into the North Korean waters above NLL."

The statement is in line with Yonhap's report that the North fired "several" artillery shells, to which South Korean military responded with self-propelled artillery fire. The South Korean K-9 howitzers have a 24-mile (40-kilometer) range.

It is not clear how many of the shells fired by North Korea reached the Republic's territorial waters. Less than two hours later, South Korean broadcaster YTN and Yonhap quoted the JCS as saying the North Korean shelling had ceased.

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Warning fax

The reclusive state took the unusual step of informing its neighbor of live-fire drills close to the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the heavily-militarized western sea, also known as the Yellow Sea. Pyongyang sent a fax early Monday demanding the Republic "control" its vessels in seven sea border areas of the Yellow Sea north of the NLL.

According to Wee Yong Sub, South Korean Defense Ministry vice-spokesperson, the scheduled tests mark the first time -- in recent history, at least -- that the North has announced live-firing exercises above the NLL, which marks the established maritime border between the two Koreas.

"We consider such announcement as a hostile threat and so have activated crisis management operation in case of (military) provocation," he said. "We stress that we are fully prepared for all situations."

He added that there are no immediate signs of nuclear tests being carried out by the North.

Nuclear tests

North Korea said Sunday it "would not rule out" a new nuclear test as it defended its recent mid-range missile launch that triggered international condemnation.

"(We) would not rule out a new form of a nuclear test aimed at strengthening our nuclear deterrence," Pyongyang's foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run KCNA news agency. "The U.S. had better ponder over this and stop acting rashly."

The statement did not specify what North Korea meant by a "new form" of test.

Last week, the Stalinist state launched two medium-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast Wednesday, violating United Nations resolutions that prohibits Pyongyang from conducting such tests.

The U.N. Security Council condemned the move and is considering an "appropriate response," the council's president U.N. Ambassador Sylvie Lucas said.

At a briefing Monday, Wee said: "We are fully prepared for all provocation, including North Korea's additional launching of missiles or nuclear test under the close cooperation with the U.S."

The military exercises are the latest provocation by the North, and come after a maritime dispute last week was seemingly swiftly resolved. On Thursday, a North Korean fishing boat was seized following an alleged incursion into South Korean waters, and then returned with its three crew members to the following day.

Pyongyang slams South Korea President over nuclear remarks

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