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(2nd LD) Two Koreas exchange shells over western border

All Headlines 18:52 August 20, 2015

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout)

SEOUL, Aug. 20 (Yonhap) - The two Koreas engaged in a brief exchange of shells over the western part of their heavily-fortified border Thursday, escalating tensions following the North's recent landmine attack on the South side.

The South Korean military's radar system detected North Korea firing a shell toward a South Korean front-line military unit in Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi Province, northwest of Seoul, at 3:52 p.m., the Ministry of National Defense said.

In response, South Korea fired back dozens of 155-millimeter shells at the point where the North fired the shell at 5:04 p.m., the ministry noted.

"Our military's sensor system detected the North firing a shell suspected to be from a rocket launcher at the town of Jungmyeon, Yeoncheon," a ministry official said.

The brief engagement ended without further development with no damage of any kind to the Southern side reported as the shell landed on a uninhabited hill, he said.

The South Korean military evacuated some 100 civilians living in the front-line and adjacent areas and moved them to shelters, according to the ministry.

The shelling immediately put the South Korean military on the top-level readiness position.

"Our military has carried out our response operations," the ministry said, declining to discuss the kinds of counteraction being taking.

Last October, the North fired about 10 shells to the same area after South Korean activists launched its campaign to send balloons, filled with anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets, into the North Korean side.

The latest military clash further spiraled the already-tense inter-Korean military tension across the border.

Last week, South Korea and the United Nations Command stationed here laid blame on North Korea for the recent blasting of three mines on the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone, which maimed two Southern soldiers.

In reaction to the North Korean provocation, the South immediately restarted its propaganda broadcasting along the border, a psychological warfare tactic, severely dreaded by the North.

Seoul also launched Ulchi Freedom Guardian, a large-scale joint military exercise with Washington, here, sparking angry reaction from North Korea.

Over the weekend, the North threatened to open fire at South Korea's propaganda operations and to retaliate against the UFG.

The U.S. has sent USS Blue Ridge, the command ship of the American Seventh Fleet, to South Korea to join the military exercise, according to the United States Forces Korea.

pbr@yna.co.kr
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