North and South Korean Navies Exchange Fire Near Border

Source : http://www.guardian.co.uk

November 10, 2009 - North Korean ship reportedly suffers heavy damage as each side blames the other for violating disputed sea border (by Tania Branigan for guardian.co.uk).

Ships from the North and South Korean navies exchanged fire off the peninsula's west coast today, with each side blaming the other for violating the disputed sea border.

The clash was the first of its kind for seven years. Seoul said there were no casualties on its side and it is unclear if there were deaths on the North Korean vessel – suggesting this was less serious than the deadly naval skirmishes of 1999 and 2002.

"It's a regrettable incident," Commodore Lee Ki-sik told reporters in Seoul. "We are sternly protesting to North Korea and urging it to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents."

He did not say whether the south believed the incursion was deliberate. Seoul-based news agency Yonhap quoted South Korea's prime minister, Chung Un-chan, as telling politicians that the skirmish was accidental.

The north's military issued a statement blaming the south's ship for crossing the border and demanding an apology.

The clash comes days ahead of Barack Obama's visit to Asia, including South Korea, and as Pyongyang seeks direct talks with his US administration. But while some experts suggested Pyongyang might be seeking to increase pressure for bilateral discussions – noting its recent statement that it had produced more arms-grade plutonium – others said it had been concentrating on making friendly overtures and suggested the incident may have been accidental.

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