North Korea fired around 250 artillery shells into a buffer zone near the maritime inter-Korean border on Tuesday and Wednesday, South Korean officials said, marking Pyongyang's latest provocation amid rising tensions on the Peninsula. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
SEOUL, Oct. 19 (UPI) -- North Korea fired hundreds of artillery shells near the border with South Korea on Tuesday night and again on Wednesday in what it called a "serious warning" as Seoul held annual defense exercises.
Pyongyang fired around 250 artillery shells into waters off its east and west coasts late Tuesday, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a message to reporters. The secretive state then shot another 100 shells into the Yellow Sea on Wednesday afternoon.
In both cases, the artillery landed inside the buffer zones north of the Northern Limit Line, the de facto inter-Korean maritime border, the JCS said.
The areas were delineated under a September 2018 military agreement signed by the two Koreas in order to reduce tensions. The JCS called the artillery fire a "clear violation" of the agreement and said the South Korean military issued "several warning messages."
North Korea also sent hundreds of shells into the buffer zone on Friday, as it continues to ramp up tensions on the Korean Peninsula to their highest level in years.
The North's military, known officially as the Korean People's Army, issued a statement on Wednesday morning saying the overnight artillery shots were a "serious warning" in response to what it claimed was rocket launcher fire from the South near the inter-Korean border.
"The situation on the Korean [P]eninsula is getting worse due to the enemies' repeated military provocations in the forefront area," the statement, attributed to a KPA spokesperson and carried by state-run Korean Central News Agency, said.
South Korea's military kicked off its annual Hoguk field drills on Monday. The exercises, which will run through Oct. 28, are meant to enhance combat readiness against threats from the North, including nuclear weapons and missiles.
On Wednesday, U.S. troops joined their South Korean counterparts in combined river-crossing exercises that involved K-2 tanks, Apache attack helicopters and KF-16 fighter jets, the South Korean army said in a release.
North Korea's KPA released another statement on Wednesday afternoon, warning "enemy forces to immediately stop the highly irritating provocative act."
Pyongyang has ratcheted up its weapons tests to a record pace this year, and warned last week that a recent spate of missile launches were practice runs for tactical nuclear weapon attacks on South Korea and U.S. targets.
The United States and South Korea have strengthened military cooperation in response, resuming full-scale joint military drills in August for the first time since 2018 and conducting air and naval exercises that included last month's arrival of the USS Ronald Reagan nuclear aircraft carrier.
Washington has also reaffirmed its "extended deterrence" commitment to Seoul, which U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Philip Goldberg reiterated on Tuesday.
"Extended deterrence means the protections provided by the United States in all areas, including nuclear," he told a group of local journalists in Seoul. "We have this iron-clad commitment. Nobody should have any doubt about that."
The allies are scheduled to hold large-scale joint air drills involving about 240 fighter jets from Oct. 31 to Nov. 4, according to South Korean officials.