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Koreans fire across border

Troops from both sides have been facing each other off across the border for 50 years.
Troops from both sides have been facing each other off across the border for 50 years.

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SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- South and North Korean troops have briefly exchanged gunfire in the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula.

The rare exchange -- the first on the border since November 2001 -- occurred as Beijing said it would visit Washington to talk about North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

At 6.10 a.m. South Korean time Thursday (2110 GMT Wednesday), North Korean soldiers fired four rounds from a military outpost, the South's joint chiefs of staff said in a statement.

South Korea broadcast warnings telling the North they were violating an armistice that ended the Korean War and retaliated by firing 17 rounds back.

North Korea has yet to issue a statement on the incident near the South Korean town of Yonchon, but officials from the South said there were no casualties on their side.

A U.N. Military Armistice Commission is heading to the border, which bristles with watchtowers, razor wire, landmines, tank-traps and heavy weaponry, to assess the situation and find out whether the incident was intentional or accidental.

On either side of the DMZ's 151-mile (248 km) length, almost two million troops face each other off, ready to go to war at a moment's notice.(Scariest place on Earth )

Earlier this year, North Korean jets entered South Korean space, in a bid to test the South's defense force, analysts said.

Tension on the Korean peninsula has been rising since North Korean officials told the United States in October last year it had a covert nuclear weapons program, in violation of a 1994 pact.

The two Koreas are officially still at war since no formal peace deal was ever signed.
The two Koreas are officially still at war since no formal peace deal was ever signed.

Since then North Korea has upped the ante, withdrawing from a Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and expelling U.N. inspectors.

The United States has led an effort to get Pyongyang to the negotiating table for multilateral talks, but North Korea says it only wants one-on-one talks with the United States.

In the latest diplomatic bid, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo is to visit Washington this week for talks on the nuclear standoff, that could pave the way for a three-way meeting. (China heads to Washington)

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had a "long conversation" with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, where he was briefed about Dai's talks in Pyongyang earlier this week.

-- CNN's Seoul Bureau Chief Sohn Jie-Ae and Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.


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