North Korea fired a barrage of artillery shells into a maritime buffer zone, the latest in a series of provocative military moves that have angered South Korea.
About 130 artillery rounds were simultaneously fired at 14:59pm (05:59 GMT) from two separate sites – one on North Korea’s east coast and one on the west coast, the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement on Monday.
North Korea’s military said it was a warning against ongoing South Korean artillery exercises near the inland border town of Cheorwon, and blamed the South for worsening tensions.
Seoul’s military said the barrage was a “clear violation” of the 2018 agreement between the North and the South that established the buffer zone in a bid to reduce tensions.
It said none of the shells crossed the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border between the two countries.
The military said it had issued “several warnings” over the barrage, without giving any further details.
“Our military is strengthening its readiness posture in preparation for emergencies while tracking and monitoring related developments under close cooperation between South Korea and the United States,” it added.
North Korea’s military said it fired artillery rounds as a “tit-for-tat” warning in response to South Korea firing dozens of projectiles earlier in the day, state-run KCNA news agency reported.
“We severely warn the enemy side to be prudent, not kindling the flame of escalation of tension unnecessary in the area around the front,” an unidentified spokesperson was quoted as saying.
At a summit in Pyongyang in 2018, former South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the North’s leader Kim Jong Un agreed to establish buffer zones along land and sea boundaries in a bid to reduce tensions.
But since talks collapsed in 2019, Kim has doubled down on his banned weapons programmes, and experts say he may now be testing South Korea by violating the buffer zone agreement.
Pyongyang has fired artillery into the buffer zone repeatedly in recent months.
It has also conducted a record-breaking blitz of missile launches in recent weeks, including its newest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) last month, the most powerful such test by the nuclear armed country yet.
Pyongyang, which is banned from testing ballistic missiles by UN Security Council resolutions, has repeatedly claimed its weapon tests are a legitimate response to Washington’s moves to boost the protection it offers to allies Seoul and Tokyo.
Officials and analysts in Seoul and Washington say the launches may build up to a seventh nuclear test.
North Korean state media said last week that leader Kim has called for a major political conference before the end of the year, at which he is expected to address increasingly tense relations with Washington and Seoul over the expansion of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.