North, South Korea trade artillery rounds into the sea
North Korea fired more than 100 artillery rounds into South Korean waters as part of a drill, prompting the South to fire back, officials in Seoul said, but the exercise appeared to be more saber-rattling from Pyongyang rather than the start of a military standoff.
The North had flagged its intentions to conduct the exercise in response to UN condemnation of last week's missile launches by Pyongyang and against what it says are threatening military drills in the South by US forces.
North Korea also accused the South of "gangster-like" behavior at the weekend by "abducting" one of its fishing boats and threatened to retaliate. The South said it had sent the boat back after it drifted into its waters.
More than 100 North Korean shells out of 500 or so fired landed in South Korean waters, prompting marines from the South to fire back with more than 300 rounds into the North's waters, defense officials in Seoul said.
Seoul also scrambled F-15s on its side of the maritime border, they said.
"We believe the North's maritime firing is a planned provocation and an attempt to test our military's determination to defend the Northern Limit Line and to get an upper hand in South-North relations," South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.
In Washington, the White House called North Korea's actions "dangerous and provocative" and said the country's threats and provocations only isolate it further.
"We remain steadfast in our commitment (to) the defense of our allies and remain in close coordination with both the Republic of Korea and Japan," White House National Security Council spokesman Jonathan Lalley said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he would raise US concerns about the North's behavior during a trip to China next week. "The North Koreans have to stop these provocative actions," he told reporters. "Obviously when I'm in China that will be a subject that I will discuss with my counterpart."
The Northern Limit Line, a maritime border that wraps itself around a part of the North's coastline, has been the scene of frequent clashes and in 2010, four people were killed when North Korea shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong.