North And South Korea Just Opened Fire On One Another. Here’s Why

(Photo by South Korea Navy via Getty Images)

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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North Korea fired missiles at a South Korean navy ship after the South sent warning shots soaring near a merchant vessel that had strayed into waters controlled by Seoul early Monday, Reuters reported.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff initially spotted a merchant ship crossing the de facto maritime border, the Northern Limit Line, and fired warning shots at about 3:40 a.m., Reuters reported. Pyongyang subsequently claimed to have retaliated with 10 rocket artillery rounds, claiming that Seoul had actually intruded upon the sea boundary “on the pretext of tracking down an unidentified ship,” the North’s state media, Korean Central News Agency, reported, according to a Reuters translation.

“We ordered initial countermeasures to strongly expel the enemy warship,” KCNA reported a spokesperson for the General Staff of the North’s Korean People’s Army as saying, according to Reuters. (RELATED: Japan Is Supercharging Its Military In Response To China Threat)

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs demanded the North cease “consistent provocations and accusations” that violate the 2018 bilateral agreement prohibiting “hostile acts.”

A South Korean military official also said the navy had conducted a “normal operation” to respond to a border violation, Reuters reported.

In March, two North Korean vessels, an unidentified ship and a patrol boat, trespassed into the South’s sea territory below the Northern Limit Line, prompting the South to fire several warning shots, The Wall Street Journal reported. While the patrol boat retreated, the South detained the other ship, whose passengers were wearing military uniforms.

In recent weeks, North Korea has launched a volley of test missiles across South Korea and Japan, landing in waters near the two countries the U.S. considers cornerstones of its alliance structure in the Asia-Pacific. Pyongyang has also deployed hundreds of rounds in the demilitarized land buffer as well as off its coastal areas near South Korea, according to Reuters.

U.S. troops stationed in South Korea conducted river crossing drills with local forces on Oct. 19, part of the South’s annual Hoguk defense drills, according to Reuters. The drills, which extend until Oct. 28, involve maneuvers to enhance combined operations between the two militaries to counter North Korean missile threats.

On Monday, the South Korean navy said it commenced a four-day-long naval drill regime involving roughly 20 warships, Reuters reported.

Pyongyang characterized the exercises as “provocations” and threatened to perform “overwhelming military countermeasures,” Reuters reported.

The North is widely expected to test a nuclear weapon in the window between the finale of China’s 20th Communist Party Congress and the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 8.

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