Violent confrontations have occasionally occurred along the border, the world’s most heavily fortified. While Sunday’s incident is a reminder of persistent tensions, it didn’t cause any known casualties on either side and is unlikely to escalate, observers say.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said in a statement that North Korean troops fired several bullets at a South Korean guard post inside the heavily fortified border. South Korea fired two rounds in response after issuing a warning broadcast, it said.
South Korea suffered no casualties, the military said. It’s unknown whether North Korea had any casualties. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency hasn’t reported about the incident.
South Korea said it was trying to contact North Korea via a military hotline to avoid an escalation.
It comes a day after North Korea broadcast images of leader Kim Jong-un reappearing in public after a 20-day absence amid intense speculation about his health.
KCNA said Kim attended Friday’s ceremony marking the completion of a fertilizer factory near Pyongyang along with senior officials. State TV showed Kim smiling and walking around factory facilities.
Kim earlier vanished from the public eye after presiding over a Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party on April 11 to discuss the coronavirus. Speculation about his health began swirling after he missed an April 15 event commemorating the birthday of his grandfather and state founder, Kim Il Sung, something he had never done since inheriting power upon his father Kim Jong Il’s death in late 2011.
The Koreas are split along the 248-kilometer (155-mile) -long, 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) -wide border called the Demilitarized Zone that was originally created as a buffer. But unlike its name, the DMZ is the world’s most heavily fortified border. An estimated 2 million mines are peppered inside and near the DMZ, which is also guarded by barbed wire fences, tank traps and combat troops on both sides.
In late 2018, the two Koreas began destroying some of their front-line guard posts and removing mines from the DMZ as part of steps to reduce tensions. But the efforts stalled amid a deadlock in nuclear negotiations between Kim and President Donald Trump meant to convince North Korea to give up its arsenal in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.
The last time there was gunfire along the border was in 2017, when North Korea sprayed bullets at a soldier fleeing to South Korea.