SEOUL • South Korea fired warning shots at one of North Korea's patrol boats as it strayed across the border, Seoul's Defence Ministry said, raising tensions while a rare reunion for families separated by the peninsula's 1950-1953 war was under way.
The South's navy was launching a crackdown on Chinese fishing boats operating illegally off the country's western coast last Saturday when it spotted the patrol vessel and fired five warning shots.
The North Korean ship returned across the border soon afterwards without firing back, the Defence Ministry said.
But Pyongyang yesterday described the incident as a "serious military provocation", and accused Seoul of seeking to reverse the recent improvement in ties.
"The shelling that was committed in broad daylight was a deliberate provocation to spark off a military conflict... and again escalate the tension on the Korean Peninsula," said the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which handles cross-border affairs.
"The recent military provocation of the South Korean military gangsters was a dangerous act aimed to chill the hard-won atmosphere of improving the relations and totally derail the process for implementing the North-South agreement," the committee said in a statement .
A North Korean spokesman was quoted by the official KCNA news agency as saying that South Korea fired at the North's vessel, which was conducting a "routine" operation.
The spokesman also warned that such an action could spark military confrontation and refuel tensions on the Korean peninsula.
"There will be only a war disaster, far from the improvement of the North-South relations," said the spokesman, who was unnamed.
North Korea has rejected the so-called Northern Limit Line - which was drawn up at the end of the Korean War - as the maritime border, insisting on a line that lies further to the south.
The Koreas remain technically at war because no peace treaty was signed after the war and, despite several moves to normalise ties, the peninsula is tensely divided.
In August, the two Koreas agreed to work together to defuse military tension and to hold another temporary reunion for families separated by the Korean War.
The Oct 20-26 reunion - only the second in five years - is currently under way in the North's Mount Kumgang resort, with hundreds of people meeting their families for the first time in nearly 70 years.
North Korean incursions over the disputed border are not unusual.
Drawn unilaterally by the US-led United Nations forces after the war, the border was the scene of brief but bloody naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and 2009.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS