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North and South Korea trade artillery fire across disputed maritime border

SEOUL---The two Koreas traded hundreds of rounds of live artillery fire across their disputed maritime border Monday, forcing South Korean islanders to take shelter a day after the North drove up tensions by threatening a new nuclear test.

The exchange, triggered by a three-hour North Korean live-fire exercise that dropped shells into South Korean waters, was limited to untargeted shelling into the sea, military officials said.

South Korea's defense ministry said the North fired some 500 shells during the drill, around 100 of them landing on the south side of the sea boundary.

The ministry said the South had responded to Pyongyang's “premeditated provocation” by firing 300 shells from K-9 self-propelled howitzer batteries based on its front-line islands.

“If the North takes issue with our legitimate returning of fire and uses it to make yet another provocation towards our sea and islands, we will make a resolute retaliation,” ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.

Analysts said the incident, coming a day after Pyongyang threatened to conduct a “new” type of nuclear test, was largely a sign of the North's growing frustration with U.S. resistance to resuming multi-party talks on its nuclear program.

“I don't see that this ran any real risk of escalating into a serious clash,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

“It's really North Korea showing it intends to keep the pressure on to resume a dialogue,” Yang said.

The South Korean stock market shrugged off the incident, with the main Kospi index closing up 0.23 percent at 1,985.61.

Unusual Advance Warning

The North had ensured maximum publicity for its live-fire drill by taking the unusual step of notifying the South beforehand, and issuing a provocative no-sail, no-fly advisory.

The exercise began at 12:15 p.m. (0315 GMT) and South Korea, which had threatened to respond if any shells crossed the border, retaliated shortly afterwards, the defense ministry said.

As a precaution, border island residents were evacuated to shelters, as South Korean fighter jets flew overhead. The evacuation order was lifted an hour after the North ended its drill.

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