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(2nd LD) N. Korea fires into western sea border

All Headlines 11:28 January 27, 2010

(ATTN: CHANGES slug, headline, lead; UPDATES throughout)

SEOUL, Jan. 27 (Yonhap) -- North Korea fired several artillery shells into waters near the inter-Korean sea border Wednesday, while the South responded immediately with warning shots into the air, Seoul officials said.

According to Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the shells fired by North Korea landed near South Korea's Baeknyeong island though still north of the Northern Limit Line (NLL) around 9:05 a.m. Wednesday.

Tension in the Yellow Sea has risen since the reclusive North declared the disputed area in the western waters a "no-sail" zone.

The South Korean navy responded to the North's artillery shells by firing shoreline Vulcan cannons with a range of 3-4 kilometers as "warning shots," though no casualties or injuries were reported as both sides fired toward the air, an official at the presidential office said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The clash comes less than three months after the divided Koreas engaged in their first naval clash on the west coast in seven years after a North Korean ship violated the sea border.

"We have confirmed North Korea's firing of several artillery shells, but they did not cross the NLL. We are on high military alert," Park Sung-woo of Seoul's JCS said.

The two Koreas, who are technically still at war as the 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, were engaged in a brief naval clash on Nov. 13, during which the South Korean navy shot at a North Korean ship, sending it back to port in flames after the fire fight.

North Korea on Monday declared the waters near the South's northernmost islands of Baeknyeong and Daecheong as no-sail zones, raising tensions after indicating a renewed will to return to the multinational negotiations over its nuclear disarmament.

The no-sail zones overlap with the NLL, drawn by the U.S.-led United Nations Command at the end of the Korean War, and are claimed void by Pyongyang.

The communist state unilaterally set a peacetime firing zone last month in an area just south of the NLL.

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