A UN investigation into a recent exchange of gunfire between the North and South Korean soldiers has determined that both violated the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, the American-led UN Command said on Tuesday.
The 3 May firefight was the first shooting inside the Korean demilitarised zone in roughly two years. There were no known casualties on either side.
The UN Command said in a statement that a multinational special investigation team led the probe with the full cooperation of the South Korean military. It said it invited North Korea to provide information on the incident but that the country had not offered a formal response.
The investigation ruled that North Korea breached the armistice by firing four rounds and South Korea by returning fire, according to the statement. It said the investigation was unable to determine if the North Korean rounds were fired intentionally or by mistake.
South Korea’s defence ministry expressed regret that the UN Command reached the conclusion without investigating North Korea, which the South says fired first. In a statement, the ministry said South Korean troops were reacting in accordance with a response manual and that the South’s military is committed to government goals of promoting peace and easing tensions along the border.
South Korean officials earlier said they fired warning shots towards North Korea after four bullets fired by the North hit one of its front-line guard posts.
The UN Command said the terms of the armistice agreement are in place to minimise the risk of incidents such as gunfire exchanges.
The demilitarised zone is, ironically, the world’s most heavily fortified border, guarded by mines, barbed wire fences and combat troops on both sides. Gunfire exchanges inside the DMZ are not unusual, but no deadly clashes have occurred in recent years. About 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea.
The recent incident came amid a deadlock in negotiations between North Korean and US officials on the North’s nuclear weapons programme.