SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired artillery shells near the disputed sea boundary off South Korea’s western coast on Friday, prompting the South to conduct its own live-fire drills in the latest escalation of tensions between the rival neighbors.
Two-hundred rounds were fired toward the Northern Limit Line, with no damage or injuries reported on the South Korean side, the country’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said early Friday.
“We detected the artillery firings from Jangsan Cape and Deungsan Cape, both in the North’s southwestern coastal areas, from 9:00 a.m. (7 p.m. ET) to 11 a.m (9 p.m. ET),” it said.
An evacuation was ordered in the bordering island of Yeonpyeong Island but it was unclear if the order was related to the firing. Four South Koreans were killed when the island came under North Korean bombardment in 2010.
South Korea’s military conducted a live-fire drill of its own around the northwestern island in response to the “provocation” by the North, the country’s defense ministry said in a statement.
There was no direct exchange of live fire between the Koreas.
The front-line maritime firing by North Korea was the first of its kind in about a year, with the latest being in December 2022, off the eastern coast of the peninsula.
It comes just a day after a joint naval drill between South Korea and the United States had ended.
Calling it an “act of provocation,” the JCS said the live fire threatened peace in the peninsula, especially after North Korea unilaterally scrapped a 2018 military accord last year that was meant to ease front-line tensions.
Under the fragile 2018 agreement, the Koreas are required to halt live-fire exercises and aerial surveillance in the no-fly and buffer zones along their border.
But tensions have soared since Pyongyang launched a spy satellite in November, which prompted the South to restore aerial surveillance and later the North to restore its dismantled front-line guard posts.
Allies and heirs
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently stepped up his rhetorical attacks on the South and ordered his military to accelerate war preparations.
Earlier Friday, Pyongyang’s state media said Kim had ordered authorities to increase production of mobile launch vehicles for missiles because the country faces a looming military showdown with its enemies.
He was shown touring a factory with his young daughter Ju Ae, an increasingly frequent companion on such trips. South Korea’s spy agency said Thursday that she is his likely heir apparent, in its first such assessment since the girl was unveiled to the world more than a year ago.
The issue of succession in the country is the subject of intense outside speculation, especially given the regime’s secretive nature.
Kim rarely ventures outside the country, but did so last year for a rare summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. And the U.S. now says that Russia has used missiles from North Korea to strike Ukraine.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that Pyongyang had provided Moscow with “ballistic missile launchers and several ballistic missiles” for its war in Ukraine. One of those missiles was launched in December, he said.
Stella Kim reported from Seoul and Mithil Aggarwal reported from Hong Kong.