North, South Korean Troops
Trade Cross-Border Fire

SEOUL (Reuters) - South and North Korean border guards briefly exchanged fire across the world's most heavily armed frontier Tuesday, but there were no reports of injuries, a South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman said.
The exchange of fire was the first this year, the spokesman added by telephone.
Incidents are unusual but not unprecedented along the so- called Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which is guarded on both sides by a total of some 1.8 million troops, including many of the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.
"At about 11:40 this morning, that side fired two or three shots and our border guards returned fire," the spokesman said.
"It was over in an instant," he added of the exchange near the border village of Paju, 25 miles northeast of the South Korean capital Seoul.
No one was wounded and the area was calm, he said.
North Korea did not issue an immediate comment on the incident, but its state media said the South had "committed a military provocation by introducing two combat armored cars into the Demilitarized Zone" Monday.
The report by the North's state-run Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) followed several state broadcasts last week accusing the South of deploying 105 mm howitzer artillery in the zone.
That report was dismissed by South Korea, which said the South's military does not have that weapon in its arsenal.
Capitalist South Korea and the communist North have been in a technical state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armed truce that has not been replaced by a peace treaty.
In September, South Korea fired warning shots to repel North Korean soldiers on two consecutive days when North Korean soldiers strayed across the midpoint of the DMZ.
Local media said the South Korean government had tried to keep that incursion quiet to avoid derailing delicate reconciliation talks between the rival Koreas. Those talks have since been suspended.
Tuesday's exchange of fire comes as the United States has intensified its scrutiny of North Korea's suspected weapons of mass destruction, including biological war capabilities, as part of U.S. efforts to combat terrorism.
President Bush told reporters Monday that Washington wanted North Korea to allow inspectors to determine whether they have been producing weapons of mass destruction and to "stop proliferating" such weapons.


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