North Korea fires artillery again over South's drills

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Tuesday fired a barrage of artillery rounds into waters near rival South Korea for the second consecutive day in a tit-for-tat for ongoing U.S.-South Korea live-fire drills in an inland border region.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected North Korea firing around 90 artillery rounds from the eastern coastal town of Kosong around 10 a.m. and another 10 rounds from the nearby town of Kumkang around 6 p.m.

It said the shells landed in the northern side of a maritime buffer zone the Koreas established in 2018 to reduce border tensions. The South said it communicated verbal warnings to North Korea and urged it to abide by the military agreement.

The South Korean assessments were slightly different from details announced by North Korea’s military, which said it fired 82 shells from multiple rocket launchers.

An unidentified spokesperson of the North Korean People’s Army’s General Staff said the firings were meant as a warning against “enemy side” artillery exercises in a region near the inter-Korean land border. The spokesperson said South Korea was being hypocritical in criticizing North Korea for breaching the 2018 agreement, saying the South’s unspecified past actions in violation of the agreement must be “calculated first.”

“The (Korean People’s Army) seriously warns the enemy side once again to stop at once the irritating military actions in the area close to the front,” the spokesperson said. “Our military counteraction against the continued provocative actions of the enemies will be more offensive as the days go by.”

North Korea also on Monday fired around 130 artillery rounds into waters inside the maritime buffer zones with South Korea, while accusing the South of raising unnecessary tension in front-line areas.

The latest North Korean military action has worsened animosity between the rivals, whose relations have sharply declined amid a prolonged pause in nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.

The South Korean army had earlier issued a public notice about live-fire exercises involving multiple rocket launch systems and howitzers in two separate testing grounds in the Cheorwon region this week. South Korea’s Defense Ministry on Tuesday confirmed that the exercises, which began on Monday and continue through Wednesday, are part of combined training with U.S. troops.

The ministry said that the exercises did not run against the 2018 inter-Korean military agreement, because they are being conducted outside the ground buffer zone set within 5 kilometers (3 miles) of the military demarcation line separating the Koreas.

“We sternly warn that North Korea will be solely responsible for any outcome produced by the North’s unilateral and consistent violations” of the 2018 agreement, the ministry said in a statement.

North Korea’s military said it ordered Monday’s artillery fire after detecting dozens of South Korean projectiles flying southeast from the Cheorwon region. That was the first time North Korea has fired weapons into the maritime buffer zones since Nov. 3, when around 80 shells landed within North Korea’s side of the zone off its eastern coast.

North Korea has fired dozens of missiles as it increased its weapons demonstrations to a record pace this year, including multiple tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile system with a potential of reaching deep into the U.S. mainland, and an intermediate-range missile over Japan.

North Korea has also conducted a series of short-range launches it described as simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and U.S. targets in an angry reaction to an expansion of joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises that North Korea views as rehearsals for a potential invasion.

Experts say North Korea hopes to negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength and force the United States to accept it as a nuclear power. South Korean officials have said North Korea might up the ante soon by conducting its first nuclear test since 2017.

The inter-Korean military agreement is one of the few tangible remnants of the countries’ short-lived diplomacy of 2018. Former South Korean President Moon Jae-in met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un three times that year while also helping to set up Kim’s first summit with former U.S. President Donald Trump.

But the inter-Korean relations declined sharply after the collapse of the second Kim-Trump meeting in February 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korean demands for a major easing of U.S.-led sanctions in exchange for a partial surrender of the North’s nuclear capabilities.