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Archive for Thursday, July 17, 2003

N. Korea, S. Korea guards exchange fire

July 17, 2003

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— South and North Korean soldiers briefly exchanged machine gun fire along their border early today, but the South Korean military said it did not suffer casualties in the shootout.

It was not immediately known whether any North Korean troops were injured or killed in the firefight in the Demilitarized Zone, a buffer area that was created at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War to keep opposing armies apart.

Tension on the Korean Peninsula is high over North Korea's suspected development of nuclear weapons, and such shooting incidents in the DMZ are rare. In recent years, however, negotiations and reconciliation efforts have moved forward despite such outbreaks of violence.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Dan Hetlage said: "The Pentagon is aware of the incident but has no comment."

North Korean soldiers fired four rounds at 6:10 a.m., and South Korean soldiers fired 17 rounds in response one minute later, said Maj. Lee of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said the North Korean fire came from a machine gun, and that the South was using a machine gun called a K-3.

Three of the North Korean bullets hit the wall of a South Korean guard post 300 yards away, according to the South Korean military.

The South Koreans issued a broadcast after returning fire, telling the North Koreans that they were in "clear violation" of the terms of the armistice that ended the Korean War.

"Immediately stop the provocation," the broadcast said.

The shootout occurred on a national holiday in South Korea that commemorates its 1948 Constitution. The Koreas were divided at the end of World War II.

Under terms of the armistice, North and South Korean soldiers can patrol in the DMZ, but they are not allowed to move around with heavy weapons such as machine guns.

However, Lee said the two sides were allowed to keep machine guns inside observation posts, and that the guns used in the shootout were located in such posts. Lee, who did not give his first name, said the incident happened near the South Korean town of Yonchon, 35 miles north of the South Korean capital, Seoul.

Yonchon is 25 miles east of Panmunjom, a cluster of buildings where the armistice was signed. The U.S.-led United Nations Command controls the southern half of the DMZ and North Korea oversees the northern half.

At a news conference, South Korean military officials made no reference to U.S. soldiers. A combined battalion of more than 500 U.S. and South Korean soldiers handles security in the southern half of Panmunjom.

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