Tags: NKorea | shipping | ban | border

NKorea Bans Shipping Along Disputed Border

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 10:12 PM

SEOUL — North Korea has announced a two-month ban on shipping near its disputed sea border with South Korea, Seoul's defence ministry said on Tuesday, in a move set to heighten tensions after a naval clash in November.

Yonhap news agency said South Korea's military was checking whether the announcement was part of preparations for more short-range missile launches.

A defence ministry spokeswoman said the no-sail zone had been imposed in waters near South Korea's Baengnyeong Island off the west coast from January 25 to March 29. She said the exact location would be announced on Wednesday.

Yonhap said the zone extended north of the island and along the disputed border, and also stretched east of the island where November's firefight erupted.

The border known as the Northern Limit Line, which the North refuses to recognise, has been a persistent flashpoint. There were deadly naval clashes in the area in 1999 and 2002.

Seoul said November's clash broke out when a North Korean patrol boat crossed the line and refused to turn back despite warnings.

The brief but intense battle left the North's boat retreating in flames and one South Korean craft with bullet holes in its hull. There was no information on any North Korean casualties, while the South's crewmen were unhurt.

Last month the North warned South Korean ships to avoid the border area, saying its coastal artillery would target it in firing exercises.

Its naval command said at the time the move came in response to "reckless military provocations" from the South.

Naval tensions have remained despite recent efforts by the sanctions-hit North to upgrade or restart joint business projects with the South.

In addition to its ballistic missile launches, Pyongyang has many times in recent years test-fired short-range missiles at sea.

Efforts to restart six-nation nuclear negotiations are currently stalled over the North's demand for early talks with the United States on a pact to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War.

Analysts have said the communist state could try to fuel tensions to strengthen its case that a peace deal is urgently needed. The United States and South Korea say the North must return to nuclear talks before any discussions on a peace pact.

On Sunday the North's military lashed out at South Korea's vow to launch a pre-emptive strike to thwart any nuclear attack, calling it "an open declaration of war."

The threat was sparked by comments last week from the South's defence minister, who said Seoul would have to launch such a strike if an atomic attack from its neighbour was imminent.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, 26 January 2010 10:12 PM
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