SEOUL >> Troops from the rival Koreas exchanged gunfire Sunday along their heavily fortified border in the second such shooting in less than 10 days, South Korean officials said. There were no reports of injuries or property damage, but the 10 minutes of shooting highlighted rising tensions between the divided countries.
The Koreas’ first exchange of gunfire came after North Korea opened fire at balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets that were floating across the border from the South. Sunday’s shootout began after North Korea sent soldiers close to the border line. The move was an attempt by the North to increase worries in the South about what might happen if leafleting continues, analysts say.
South Korean activist groups, mostly made up of North Korean defectors, have been staunch in their vows to continue sending the leaflets, which Pyongyang considers propaganda warfare; one group says it will float about 50,000 on Saturday. North Korea has warned it will take unspecified stronger measures if leafleting continues.
Generals from the sides met at a border village last week in their first military talks in more than three years to discuss how to ease the recent spike in tensions, but the meeting ended with no agreement and no prospects to meet again.
On Sunday, South Korean soldiers broadcast warnings and fired warning shots at about 10 North Korean soldiers who were approaching the military demarcation line inside the 4-kilometer-wide (2.5-mile-wide) Demilitarized Zone that bisects the Korean Peninsula, according to a statement from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Two shots believed to have been fired by North Korean soldiers were found at a South Korean guard post. South Korean soldiers fired toward the North, the statement said.
South Korean defense officials said the North Korean soldiers turned back after the shooting.
North Korea opened fire on Oct. 10 after activists floated propaganda balloons across the border, following through on a previous threat to attack. There were no reports of casualties from that incident either.
North Korea has repeatedly demanded South Korea ban activists from sending leaflets, which often urge North Korean citizens to rise up against leader Kim Jong Un. South Korea has refused, saying activists are exercising freedom of speech.
Analyst Cheong Seong-chang at the private Sejong Institute think tank said Sunday’s gunfire exchange showed North Korea is intentionally escalating military tension to spread fear about possible casualties should leafleting continue. He said North Korea is expected to launch more provocations as long as South Korea doesn’t change its position on leafleting.
The latest exchanges of gunfire serve as a reminder of long-running tensions between the Koreas despite earlier hopes of easing animosities after a group of top North Korean officials made a rare visit to South Korea early this month and agreed to resume senior-level talks.
Only days after the North Koreans’ visit, navy ships of the two Koreas also traded gunfire near their disputed western sea border, the scene of several bloody maritime skirmishes in recent years.
The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.