North and South Korea have exchanged warning shots along their disputed western sea border in a move that has raised concerns of possible clashes.
It comes after both countries accused each other of breaching their maritime borders in the early hours of Monday morning.
South Korea claimed it sent the warnings in a bid to repel a North Korean merchant ship that violated the sea boundary, with the country’s military saying it had conducted a “normal operation” over the intrusion.
“We once again urge North Korea to immediately cease consistent provocations and accusations which harm the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula as well as the international community,” the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
Meanwhile, North Korea said its coastal defence units responded by firing 10 rounds of artillery shots after a “naval enemy movement was detected”.
“We ordered initial counter measures to strongly expel the enemy warship,” a spokesperson for the General Staff of the North’s Korean People’s Army said, according to the official KCNA news agency.
While there were no reports of fighting between the two sides, the boundary off the Korean Peninsula’s west coast is a source of long-running animosities.
The latest exchange of fire comes amid simmering military tensions, with the North carrying out weapons tests at an unprecedented pace this year.
‘Could lead to a serious exchange of fire’
In recent weeks, North Korea has launched short-range ballistic missiles and hundreds of artillery rounds off its east and west coasts in protest over the South’s military activities.
South Korea’s troops kicked off their annual defence drills last week, which includes a four-day exercise using 20 warships.
The drills aim to boost the South’s military capabilities with the United States to counter the North’s nuclear and missile threats.
Experts have claimed North Korea could extend its spate of testing, conduct its first nuclear test in five years or launch other provocations if the South and US continue their combined military exercises.
“Pyongyang’s politics of blaming external threats and projecting confidence in military capabilities can motivate greater risk taking,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“North Korean probing of South Korean perimeter defences could lead to a serious exchange of fire and unintended escalation.”
The North has already responded angrily to the drills, calling them provocations and threatening to take counter measures.