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Shots exchanged on Korean border before U.S. visit

April 10, 1997
Web posted at: 1:02 p.m. EDT (1702 GMT)

In this story:

PANMUNJOM, Korea (CNN) -- North and South Korean troops traded warning shots Thursday across the tense demilitarized zone dividing them, in an incident visiting U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said showed the dangerous and unstable situation in the North.

The shooting in the eastern sector of the heavily fortified DMZ came about an hour before Cohen arrived by helicopter in Panmunjom, the truce village in the 2.5 mile (4 km) strip that separates the two Koreas.

Panmunjom is about 60 miles (100 km) west of the flashpoint. Cohen was unaware of the incident until after he returned to Seoul.

U.S. and South Korean officials stressed that numerous shooting incidents have occurred in the DMZ since a truce ended the 1950-1953 Korean War, although a South Korean defense ministry spokesman said it was the first time this year.

Cohen: 'Decaying and dying'

DMZ

Southern troops on patrol within the DMZ fired 10 shots into the air after spotting five or six North Korean soldiers who had crossed the border line, U.S. and South Korean officials said.

"The North Korean soldiers fired back warning shots and withdrew," a Seoul military spokesman said.

Eyeballed by a North Korean sentry from across the DMZ, Cohen denounced North Korea's "decaying and dying" communist system and called on Pyongyang to make peace with South Korea.

Cohen later said of the shooting incident: "It confirms that it is still a very tense, dangerous, unstable situation as far as the North Koreans are concerned. We have to be vigilant."

North: 'Outrageous comment'

North Korea's state radio attacked comments by Cohen that virtually all of the 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea would remain there for the foreseeable future, even if the Koreas made peace and were united.

"This outrageous comment puts military pressure on us and reveals the U.S. military forces' dangerous ambition for domination of the entire Korean peninsula," the radio said.

Cohen went to Panmunjom after talks with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Dong-jin on how to respond to North Korea's chronic food shortage.

Later, Cohen met South Korean President Kim Young-sam and Foreign Minister Yoo Chong-ha to discuss beefing up joint defenses against the North.

"North Korea continues to build up its military strength and conduct exercises even though its system is loosening in every sector of society amid a severe food crisis," Kim told Cohen.

Meeting with troops

Cohen also had lunch and words of encouragement for soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division based near the DMZ.

Over a heaping plate of hot food at the Camp Casey mess hall, Cohen thanked the troops for their service and suggested the long standoff between the communist North and capitalist South was near an end.

"We're very close to the finishing line, seeing a united and free Korea," Cohen said.

Seoul Bureau Chief Sohn Jie-Ae and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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