SKorea denounces NKorean barrage of artillery as 'grave' violation of Korean War armistice

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea denounced the firing of artillery from North Korea as a grave violation of their cease-fire and warned Tuesday that it would deal "sternly" with any further provocations.

North Korea fired about 110 rounds from its western shores late Monday afternoon — just minutes after the South Korean military concluded five days of large-scale naval drills staged in response to the deadly sinking of a warship.

Most of the shells landed in North Korean waters, but about 10 reached South Korean waters not far from an island inhabited by fishing families and South Korean troops, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in Seoul. Officials reported no damage.

The Defense Ministry called the move a violation of the armistice signed in 1953 at the end of the three-year Korean War.

"If North Korea continues its provocative rhetoric and acts, we will deal sternly with them," the ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

North Korea, meanwhile, warned Tuesday of a "war of retaliation."

Tensions have been high since the Cheonan warship went down in the choppy waters near the tense western sea border in late March, killing 46 sailors. It was the worst military attack on South Korea since the Korean War.

North Korea disputes the maritime frontier unilaterally drawn by the U.N. in 1953, and the two Koreas have fought three bloody battles there, most recently in November 2009.

A five-nation team of investigators pinned the March explosion that destroyed the Cheonan on a North Korean torpedo fired from a submarine. North Korea, however, denies being behind the sinking.

In a show of force, South Korea and the United States, which stations 28,500 troops in the South to protect its longtime ally, held massive joint military drills off the east coast of the peninsula last month.

South Korea also launched its own naval drills in the Yellow Sea, near the spot where the Cheonan sank.

Meanwhile, Seoul has demanded the release of a South Korean fishing boat and its crew of four South Korean and three Chinese fishermen seized by North Korea on Sunday.

Following Monday's barrage of artillery, South Korea's military warned the North in radio broadcasts to resist further provocations, officials said.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman called it "ongoing chest thumping" and said more provocations were likely. Spokesman P.J. Crowley denounced the move and said it likely "resulted in a lot of dead fish."

Pyongyang warned that it was prepared to retaliate.

North Korea "will clearly show to those buoyed by war fever what a real war is like any time it deems necessary through a war of retaliation of its own style based on its nuclear deterrent," the main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

Meanwhile, discussions between the American-led U.N. Command, which monitors the armistice, and North Korean military officials continued Tuesday at the border village of Panmunjom, but ended once again with no major breakthrough.

The talks — the fourth such gathering since July 15 — mainly focused on arranging higher-level talks between the sides to discuss the warship sinking. The two sides agreed Tuesday to meet again at a date to be determined, the U.N. Command said in a statement.

Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency reported later Tuesday that North Korean officials had suggested forming a joint North Korean-U.S. inspection team to investigate the sinking of the Cheonan.

The U.N. Command could not immediately be reached for comment on the KCNA report.


Associated Press writers Dan Y. Chung and Sangwon Yoon contributed to this report.