- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 30, 2002

SEOUL South and North Korea blamed each other yesterday for their worst border clash in recent years after a northern warship sank a South Korean patrol boat in the Yellow Sea, killing at least four sailors and wounding 19.
The South accused the North of violating the armistice that ended the Korean War, but a defiant North said the South shot first.
The commander of the U.S. troops in the region said the incident could complicate the Korean peace process.
"This provocative act by North Korea is a serious violation of the Armistice Agreement and could have serious implications in many areas," said Gen. Leon LaPorte, who commands some 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against North Korea.
The confrontation lasted 21 minutes, dealing a new blow to Korean reconciliation efforts and embarrassing the South during its moment in the sun as a host to the World Cup soccer tournament, which ends today.
There was no immediate word on North Korean casualties or missing. A Northern warship was seen being towed away from the battle scene in flames, according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Gen. LaPorte's statement did not elaborate about the implications, but said U.S. and South Korean forces were in "close contact" after the attack. He has asked for a command meeting with North Korean officers to investigate the action, but said the North has not responded.
A Pentagon spokesman, Cmdr. Randy Sandoz, said that there was no "heightened alert," and that South Korea had not made any request for U.S. assistance.
President Kim Dae-jung called an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, while South Korea's military sent a 1,200-ton battleship to the poorly marked border, accompanied by a squadron of fighter jets.
"The military provocation of pre-emptive firing by a North Korean navy patrol ship is a clear violation of the armistice and an act that raises tension on the Korean Peninsula. We cannot keep silent," the presidential Blue House quoted Mr. Kim as saying at the hourlong meeting.
In a statement afterward, Defense Minister Kim Dong-shin demanded an apology, punishment of those responsible and a promise from North Korea to refrain from such actions in the future.
The clash occurred at 10:25 a.m. as South Korean navy vessels tried to repel two North Korean navy warships and an unspecified number of North Korean fishing boats, the southern military said.
Two North Korean warships ventured three miles into the South's waters, ignoring loudspeaker warnings to withdraw, the military said.
One of the northern boats then fired a heavy-caliber gun from about 500 yards, scoring a direct hit on the steering room of a South Korean patrol boat with 27 sailors aboard, the South's military said.
North Korean state-run media denied the claim, saying the northern vessel was defending itself against an intrusion into the North's waters.
The clash was the worst in three years, killing at least four South Koreans a lieutenant and three enlisted men. At least one South Korean was missing. The South Korean military said 22 sailors were injured, but later revised the number to 19.
The skirmish was a setback to Mr. Kim's so-called "sunshine" policy of trying to engage the isolated, communist North, which shares a sealed, heavily fortified border with the South. The 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
In the summer of 1999, a series of border violations by North Korean ships touched off the first naval clash between the two Koreas since the Korean War. One North Korean warship sank and about 30 North Korean sailors died, according to South Korea. Several South Korean sailors were wounded.

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