South and North Korea exchanged machine-gun fire across their heavily armed border on Friday, several hours after a group of South Korean activists, including defectors from the Communist North, released dozens of large balloons loaded with leaflets criticizing the Pyongyang government into the North, South Korean officials said.
No damage or casualties were reported after the exchange of fire.
South Korean troops on the border first heard the sounds of fire from North Korea a few hours after the activists released the leaflets from Yeoncheon, a border county north of Seoul, a Defense Ministry spokesman said. They later found several bullets that had fallen in a South Korean village and near a military unit. The bullets were from an antiaircraft machine gun used by the North Korean Army, he said.
“Our military first broadcast a warning and then fired 40 machine-gun rounds toward a North Korean guard post,” said the spokesman, who spoke on the customary condition of anonymity. “We remain vigilant, carefully watching the situation.”
The navies of the two Koreas fought bloody skirmishes on their disputed western sea border in 1999, 2002 and 2009. In 2010, North Korea launched an artillery barrage at a South Korean border island, killing two marines and two civilians and prompting South Korea to retaliate with its own artillery attack at North Korean gun positions across the western sea border. On Tuesday, patrol boats from the two sides exchanged fire there, without hitting each other.
Still, the exchange of fire on Friday across the 155-mile-long land border was unusual enough for South Korean television stations to cut into their regular programs to report the incident as urgent news. The two armies used to exchange gunfire across the land border during the Cold War, without escalating any of the exchanges into a major skirmish, but such episodes have since become rare.
North Korea has bristled at the periodic release of leaflets, making a repeated threat to direct an artillery attack at South Korean activists who launch the balloons from near the border. The leaflets usually contain Christian messages or criticize the prison gulags and the dynastic rule of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, who is often caricatured as a pig or a “depraved child” for executing his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, last year. The leaflets also show data illustrating the growing income gap between the two Koreas.