- Associated Press - Saturday, February 20, 2016

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - Sounds of explosions caused South Korean residents of a front-line island to prepare to evacuate early Saturday, but it was later determined that the noise came from a North Korean artillery drill across the rivals’ disputed maritime border, officials said.

The false alarm was indicative of the high anxiety between the Koreas in the wake of the North’s recent long-range rocket launch and nuclear test.

Hours later, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency hurled insults at South Korean President Park Geun-hye, calling her a “tailless, old, insane bitch” as it condemned her hard-line response to the North’s recent actions.

The government of Park, who has been a frequent target of sexist comments from the North, shut down a factory park in North Korea that had been jointly run by the rivals. Seoul also has started preparatory talks with Washington on deploying a sophisticated missile defense system in South Korea in attempts to tighten the screws on Pyongyang.

North Korea also labeled as “laughable” Washington’s new sanctions against Pyongyang, which were signed into law by President Barack Obama on Thursday and are aimed at denying the North the money to develop miniaturized warheads and the long-range missiles required to deliver them.

Despite the U.S. sanctions, the North will continue to “raise high” its official policy of simultaneously developing nuclear weapons and its economy, an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a separate KCNA dispatch.

South Korea’s front-line soldiers near the northwest island of Baengnyeong heard several explosions and also saw flashes from what the military believes were shells fired from North Korean coastal guns at around 7:20 a.m., said an official from Seoul’s Defense Ministry, who didn’t want to be named, citing office rules. No North Korean projectile flew south of the maritime border, he said.

An official from the county that governs the island said that residents didn’t evacuate, but that fishing boats returned to their ports. She said that passenger vessels from the island and the mainland port of Incheon were operating normally.

Meanwhile, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said the military completed its search operations for debris from the North Korean long-range rocket that was launched into orbit Feb. 7.

The military said it was unlikely that there were any more crucial parts left to be found in South Korean seas. The ministry said that the navy recovered two pieces of debris presumed to be from the launch at an island off the country’s western coast on Thursday and Friday.

South Korean officials believe the North deliberately blew up the rocket’s first stage after burnout to prevent South Korea from retrieving debris.

North Korea said it launched an Earth observation satellite, but South Korea, the U.S. and the U.N. said it violated a ban on Pyongyang’s missile technology.


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