SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has issued a no-sail warning off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula in what South Korean officials said on Friday was likely part of routine military drills, amid heightened antagonism between the rivals.
Tensions between the two Koreas have grown since the South blamed the North for torpedoing one of its navy ships in March killing 46 sailors. The North denies involvement in the sinking, saying the accusation is a fabricated political ploy.
“North Korea has designated a north-west area of the (Yellow Sea) as a no-sail zone for June 19 to 27,” a South Korean Defense Ministry official said.
“This appears to be part of training exercises and we have no indications of unusual activities by the North Korean military.”
A report by a local newspaper on Friday said a no-sail waning issued by the North was in effect possibly as a preparation for launching a short-range missile.
The report triggered a rally in South Korean defense stocks in early trading. Players in the Korean financial markets largely shrugged off the report as they typically do when news of the North’s provocations fall short of direct confrontation.
North Korea has protested the accusation by the South that its submarine fired a torpedo that sank the corvette Cheonan, and warned of war if Seoul imposed punishment.
Marking the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak demanded an apology from the North and called for an end to provocations.
“North Korea must halt reckless military provocations and join the road to coexistence among the 70 million Korean nation,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is not military confrontation but peaceful unification.”
North Korea defied a U.N. Security Council ban on ballistic missile launches to test-fire a barrage of missiles on July 4 last year.
Analysts said the North’s military moves were aimed at boosting leader Kim Jong-il’s political standing at home and were his country’s bargaining position as regional powers tried to coax Pyongyang back to nuclear disarmament talks.
Additional reporting by Jungyoun Park; Editing by Tomasz Janowski, Chris Lewis and Alex Richardson