North, S. Korea exchange heavy fire across border
July 16, 1997
Web posted at: 10:32 a.m. EDT (1432 GMT)
SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- North Korea fired several rounds
of artillery shells into South Korea Wednesday in the most
serious border clash in recent years, the South Korean
Defense Ministry said.
Both countries, which have never signed a peace treaty after
the 1950-53 Korean War, accused each other of provoking the
South Korea said the firefight erupted early Wednesday, when
a group of North Korean soldiers crossed the Military
Demarcation Line, which runs through the middle of the
2.5-mile (4-km) wide buffer zone dividing the two countries.
A spokesman for South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said
southern troops issued warnings over loudspeakers and fired
The spokesman said the North Korean forces responded by
firing at least 10 mortar rounds at two South Korean guard
posts. There were no reports of South Korean casualties.
CNN Seoul Bureau Chief Sohn Jie-Ae reports on the DMZ incident
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Reactions to mounting border tensions
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Impact on future New York talks
North Korea's Pyongyang radio gave a different account of the
events. The radio report, monitored in Tokyo, said that North
Korean soldiers were carrying out normal reconnaissance
patrols when South Korean troops opened fire. "From this
attack, several soldiers were injured and several guard posts
were destroyed," the radio reported. It described the
incident as a "grave armed provocative act."
The South Korean defense ministry said in its statement, "The
crossing of the military demarcation line and firing heavy
firearms at our guard posts in spite of repeated warnings
from our side is an intentional provocation."
A South Korean defense ministry official described the
firefight as a rare but very serious provocation by the
North, and said the move appeared to be intentional.
Wednesday's cross-border incident lasted less than an hour,
and fighting ended after Southern troops reportedly issued a
cease-fire call. It occurred in one of the most heavily
militarized areas, which is often described as the last Cold
The shooting came just three weeks before the two Koreas are
scheduled to meet in New York to work toward a formal peace
The negotiations, scheduled for August 5, will also include
the United States and China. Political analysts said
Wednesday's shooting incident is unlikely to derail the peace
Kim Chang-su of the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis in
Seoul said the incident underlined the problems facing the
North Korean leadership. "Threatened by famine and a
collapsing economy, Pyongyang needs to whip up war atmosphere
to tighten control," he said.
Some Korea watchers have been keeping a close eye on the
Pyongyang government in recent months, trying to assess
whether the North might take a more aggressive stance against
the South in the light of its severe food shortages, caused
by two years of devastating floods.
There have been several incidents at the buffer zone dividing
the two Koreas in recent months.
In a major incident last September, a North Korean submarine
went aground off South Korea's northeast coast. The discovery
of the submarine triggered a hunt for its occupants in which
24 North Koreans were killed, and one was captured.
Seoul Bureau Chief Sohn Jie-Ae and Reuters contributed to this report.
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