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|In this Aug. 28, 2019, file photo, a North Korean soldier looks toward the south as a South Korean soldier stands guard in the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea. Reuters|
South Korean soldiers on guard duty at the unit in the central border town of Cheorwon heard gunshots at around 7:41 am (local time) and found four bullet marks on a wall of the guard post, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In accordance with the response manual, the military then fired a total of 20 shots in response -- 10 rounds each time -- and issued broadcast warnings, it added. No casualties or damage to South Korean facilities were reported.
It is not known if North Korea sustained any damage.
"We also sent a notice to the North Korean side via the inter-Korean communication line at around 9:35 am, and called for its explanation," a JCS officer said.
North Korea has given no response yet.
The military is closely looking into the incident to learn more details by analyzing pieces of evidence, including shells found at the scene, as well as the North's motivations for the firing. It does not appear to be an intentional provocation, according to the officer.
"It was quite foggy and the North Korean soldiers usually rotate shifts around that time," the JCS officer said, adding that no unusual movements by the North's military have been detected.
The South Korean authorities made it clear that the incident is in violation of the bilateral military accord of the Comprehensive Military Agreement signed in September 2018, and urged the North to fully abide by the agreement.
Under the accord, the two Koreas set up land, maritime and ground buffer zones and agreed to halt all hostile acts against each other, aimed at reducing tensions and building trust.
It is the first reported exchange of gunfire between the two Koreas along the border since 2017.
The incident came amid stalled inter-Korean relations and one day after the North ended mounting rumors about leader Kim Jong-un's health and whereabouts by reporting his first public appearance in nearly three weeks.
Kim's absence from public view, particularly at the ceremony to mark the birthday of the national founder and his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, has sparked rumors about his health.
But the South Korean government has said no unusual movement has been detected in the regime.
On Saturday, North Korean media said Kim cut a ribbon at a ceremony on Friday to mark the completion of a fertilizer plant.
|Two Koreas exchange gunfire across border following Kim reappearance|
Kim was seen in photographs smiling and talking to aides at the ceremony and also touring the plant. The authenticity of the photos, published on the website of the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper, could not be verified, Reuters said.
US President Donald Trump on Saturday welcomed the reemergence of North Korea's Kim Jong Un after weeks of speculation about his health.
Trump, who met Kim three times in 2018 and 2019 in unprecedented but unsuccessful personal attempts to persuade him to give up his nuclear weapons, tweeted on Saturday: "I, for one, am glad to see he is back, and well!"
Choi Kang, vice-president of the Asian Institute for Policy Studies, says the timing of the "grey area" provocation shows Kim is still in charge of the North Korean military.
"Yesterday, Kim was trying to show he is perfectly healthy, and today, Kim is trying to mute all kinds of speculation that he may not have full control over the military,” Choi said.
"Rather than going all the way by firing missiles and supervising a missile launch, Kim could be reminding us, 'yes I’m healthy and I’m still in power'.”
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