- SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) - South Korean warships early Tuesday sank
a North Korean patrol boat and heavily damaged another during a 10-minute
exchange of gunfire in contested waters in the Yellow Sea, South Korea's
Defense Ministry said.
- The firefight dramatically escalated
an eight-day standoff between the rival Koreas in a disputed fishing zone.
Seoul has issued a heightened state of alert and ordered all South Korean
ships in the area, including fishing vessels, to return to port.
- According to a spokesman for South Korean
President Kim Dae-jung, the president was aware of the situation and has
said the military should "act coolly" to the event.
- Officials with the Defense Ministry and
the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said three North Korean torpedo boats
and two patrol boats crossed into the disputed waters, escorting a group
of fishing boats, and that high-speed South Korean patrol boats approached
- Two South Korean patrol boats twice tried
to ram and repel the two northern patrol boats before shots were exchanged.
- Injuries reported
- South Korean Defense Ministry officials
said the North Korean ships fired first and South Korean ships returned
fire. The incident began around 9:25 a.m. local time (8:25 p.m. Monday
EDT) and lasted 10 minutes.
- Seoul officials said one of the North
Korean patrol boats sank and another was severely damaged, taking in water.
The torpedo boats retreated to the North, including one that caught fire,
the officials said.
- The South Korean Defense Ministry said
seven of its sailors were slightly injured in the gunbattle.
- The exchange erupted shortly before North
Korean officials began talks with officers of the U.N. Command in the truce
border village of Panmunjom to discuss the tense military standoff.
- A spokesman for the U.N. Command told
CNN the talks lasted about 90 minutes and were carried out in a professional
- During the meeting, he said the U.N.
Command expressed concerns the intrusions could further escalate tensions
in the peninsula and recommended that both sides withdraw to the U.N.-recognized
- Meanwhile, South Korea will participate
in vice-ministerial talks with North Korea in Beijing on Monday despite
the clash, a senior aide to Kim said on Tuesday.
- "South Korea will proceed with the
planned vice-ministerial talks," Hwang Won-tak, senior secretary to
the president for foreign policy and national security, told reporters
after an emergency meeting of the National Security Council.
- Crab season
- South Korea says Northern naval vessels
recently have crossed into southern waters daily -- and last Friday South
Korean naval vessels rammed four North Korean patrol boats in the disputed
zone, a rich crab fishing ground.
- It is not uncommon for North Korean patrol
boats to be in the waters during crab-catching season, but the patrol boats
typically don't enter the water as frequently or as numerous as in recent
- In Washington, Clinton administration
officials said they are "very concerned" about the recent developments
and they're checking into the reports. The United States has about 37,000
troops in South Korea.
- The buffer zone lies just south of the
38th parallel, the border defined between communist North Korea and the
capitalist South. North Korea, however, refuses to recognize the buffer