SEOUL: A North Korean patrol boat repeatedly crossed the disputed Yellow Sea border with the South in an apparent show of force at the start of South Korea-United States (US) military drills, Seoul’s defense ministry said on Tuesday.
The incursion took place three times overnight on Monday and at one point, the North Korean naval vessel had reached two nautical miles inside the South side of the border.
No shots were fired and the patrol boat eventually retreated after warnings from the South Korean navy, defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said.
“We suspect this is aimed at testing our military preparedness,” Kim told reporters, saying it was apparent that the vessel had “intentionally violated” the boundary.
North Korean incursions over the maritime border—which it does not officially recognize—are not unusual and there were at least three last year.
This was the first such incident in 2014 and it came as South Korea and US on Monday launched their annual joint military exercises, which Pyongyang routinely condemns as rehearsals for invasion.
The maritime boundary, which was unilaterally drawn by the US-led United Nations forces after the 1950-1953 Korean War, was the scene of brief but bloody naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and 2009.
The war ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty and technically, the two Koreas are still at war.
The start of the South-US drills overlapped with the first reunion for more than three years of families divided by the Korean War – an event that has raised hopes of greater North-South cooperation.
The annual “Key Resolve” and “Foal Eagle” drills will last until April 18 and involve a combined total of 12,700 US troops and many more from South Korea.