North and South Korea Are Firing Into Each Other’s Waters

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In this March 11, 2013 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed March 12, 2013 by the Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rides on a boat, heading for the Wolnae Islet Defense Detachment, North Korea, near the western sea border with South Korea. North Korea's young leader urged front-line troops to be on "maximum alert" for a potential war as a state-run newspaper said Pyongyang had carried out a threat to cancel the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War.
Photo: KCNA via KNS/AP/Corbis

North Korea tests its rockets and threatens to turn various enemy territories into a "sea of fire" so often that most people tune out Kim Jong-un's antics unless there's potentially hilarious haircut news. But over the weekend the usual saber rattling quickly escalated, pushing tensions between North and South Korea to their worst point in months. After making the unusual announcement that it would be conducting live-fire drills, Pyongyang fired shells along the disputed western sea border between the two nations. One shell landed in South Korean waters, leading marines to return fire into North Korean waters.

No shells have been fired at land or military installations on either side, according to an official with South Korea's Joint Chiefs of staff, but in 2010 two South Korean soldiers and two civilians were killed when North Korea fired artillery shells at Yeonpyeong Island. On Monday residents on the South Korean islands of Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong were moved into shelters. The South also scrambled F-15 fighters to patrol the border.

The exchange came a day after North Korea complained about the U.N. Security Council condemning its recent "self-defensive" ballistic missile launch while "turning a blind eye to the U.S. madcap nuclear war exercises." "We would not rule out a new form of nuclear test for bolstering up our nuclear deterrence," the North's said in a statement. It's unclear what they meant by "new form," but it's believed that North Korea is trying to make nuclear devices that could be delivered via intercontinental ballistic missile.

Analysts say there's no sign that a fourth nuclear test is imminent, and South Korea responded to the announcement with its own vague threat. Cho Tai-young, a spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, said in a statement, "North Korea should bear in mind that if it ignores the stern demand from the neighboring countries and the international community and carries out a nuclear test, it will have to pay a price for it."