South Korea fires rounds at North in response to shell

(REUTERS) – South Korea said it fired tens of artillery rounds toward North Korea on Thursday (August 20) after the North launched a shell toward a South Korean loudspeaker that had been blaring anti-Pyongyang broadcasts, as tension escalated on the peninsula.

North Korea did not return fire but later warned Seoul in a letter that it would take military action if the South did not remove the loudspeakers within 48 hours, the South’s defence ministry said.

In the letter, North Korea’s armed forces called the South’s propaganda broadcasts a “major challenge” to the North.

South Korea said its detection equipment had spotted the trajectory of a suspected North Korean projectile launched at around 3:52 p.m. (0652 GMT), which did not appear to have damaged the loudspeaker or caused any injuries.

“Our military detected the North firing shells towards the Southern area of Military Demarcation Line (MDL) on two separate times at 3:52 p.m. (0652 GMT) and 4:12 p.m. (0712 GMT) on August 20th. Therefore, our military in response fired tens of rounds of 155mm artillery,” Chief of Public Affairs in Joint Chief of Staff (JCS), Jeon Ha-hyu, said at a news briefing.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye told top defence officials to “react firmly” to North Korean provocations, a spokesman quoted her as saying. South Korea’s military raised its alert status to the highest level.

“Our military immediately raised an alert status to the highest level and is closely monitoring movements of North Korean military. We’re also maintaining our military readiness to strongly respond if there is any further provocation by North Korea,” Jeon added.

There was no mention of the firing in North Korean state media, which does not typically make immediate comment on events.

The suspected North Korean shell landed in an area about 60 km (35 miles) north of Seoul in the western part of the border zone, the defence ministry said. South Korean residents in the area were ordered to evacuate, according to the South’s Yonhap news agency.

The projectile appeared to have landed in a mountainous area near a South Korean military base in the town of Yeoncheon, Yonhap said.

The exchange of fire was the first between the two Koreas since last October, when North Korean soldiers approached the military border and did not retreat after the South fired warning shots, the South Korean Defence Ministry said at the time. The North’s soldiers fired back in an exchange of gunfire that lasted about 10 minutes, with no casualties.