- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 26, 2010

SEOUL — North Korea issued two no-sail zones near its disputed western sea border with South Korea, officials said Tuesday, a possible indication the country may be preparing to conduct missile tests.

The no-sail zones were designated just south of the western maritime border — in South Korean-held waters — from Monday through March 29, said a South Korean Defense Ministry official on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

The YTN television network cited a military official as saying that the North designated the no-sail zones possibly to conduct missile tests or other military action.

South Korea was trying to find out why the North made the no-sail-zone announcement. Pyongyang did the same in the past before carrying out missile tests and military maneuvers, the Defense Ministry official said. The North also has issued no-sail zones if bad weather was expected.

One of the zones is where navy ships from the two Koreas fought a brief yet bloody gunbattle in November that left one North Korean sailor dead and three others wounded, according to the Yonhap news agency. The Defense Ministry said it couldn’t confirm the report.

The disputed sea border, drawn by the U.N. Command at the end of the Korean War, is a constant source of military tension between the Koreas, with Pyongyang insisting the line should be redrawn further south. The dispute also led to bloody naval skirmishes in 1999 and 2002.

North Korea has sent mixed signals to the South recently. Pyongyang offered talks on restarting stalled joint-tour programs and a joint industrial complex in the North earlier this month.

But the communist North also has escalated its rhetoric with the powerful National Defense Commission threatening to attack the South and break off all dialogue over a reported South Korea contingency plan to handle turmoil in the North.

The two Koreas are still technically at war because their 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

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