SEOUL — Seoul's top official in cross-border ties warned on Sept. 24 that recent territorial violations by North Korean fishing boats might be a deliberate ploy by Pyongyang to provoke South Korea.
Navy ships from the South fired warning shots at six North Korean fishing boats that crossed the disputed Yellow Sea border on Sept. 21, the latest in a series of similar incursions.
It was the first time for two years that the South has resorted to firing warning shots to push the fishing boats back.
None of the vessels were hit and they swiftly returned to their side of the western sea boundary. The North said any incursion was made by the South's navy and threatened military retaliation.
“Too many ships are violating the border too many times to call them a mistake. That's why we are paying closer attention,” Seoul's Unification Minister Yu Woo-Ik told reporters.
“I just hope that such unusual ... (border) violation is not a planned provocation by the North,” he said.
The incident on Sept. 21 occurred close to the South's Yeonpyeong Island, which the North shelled in 2010, killing four South Koreans, including two civilians.
The disputed sea border off the west coast was the scene of deadly naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and 2009.
The de-facto maritime boundary between the two Koreas — the Northern Limit Line — is not recognized by Pyongyang, which argues it was unilaterally drawn by the U.S.-led United Nations forces after the 1950-53 Korean War.
The two Koreas remain technically at war since the Korean conflict was concluded with a truce rather than a peace treaty, and small border incidents in the past have been known to escalate swiftly.
Cross-border ties have been icy since Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing a warship with the loss of 46 lives in March 2010. The North angrily denied the charge and went on to shell Yeonpyeong, sparking fears of a full-scale conflict.