North Korea fired gunshots at a South Korean guard post in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a buffer area which separates the two countries, on Sunday, and the South fired back, according to its military.
The North Korean gunfire hit the wall but did not injure anyone or cause any discernible damage to the guard post or its equipment, said South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Several bullets from the North were fired into the DMZ at 7:41 a.m. local time Sunday, the JCS said in a text message to press.
The South Korean military responded by broadcasting a verbal warning and returning fire twice, according to protocol outlined in the response manual and on the judgment of the field commander, according to the JCS statement.
The South Korean military said that “the military is in the process of identifying situations over the military communication line with the North and preventing any additional situations from occurring.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that initial reports indicated the gunfire from the North was “accidental.”
“I’ve seen that reporting too. I’ve seen some of our internal information as well. We can confirm at least the initial reports are that you’ve described are just about right. A handful of shots that came across from the North. We think those were accidental. South Koreans did return fire so far as we can tell there was no loss of life on either side,” Pompeo said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
Under the military accord signed between the two Koreas on September 29, 2018, the South and North each demolished 11 guard posts along the DMZ, but dozens of guard posts remain.
There have been exchanges of fire between the Koreas in the past, including in 2017, when a North Korean solider defected at the JSA (Joint Security Area) and, in 2014, when a North Korean defector organization launched balloons of leaflets criticizing the country’s reclusive regime.
Pompeo was tight-lipped regarding North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who had not been seen publicly for weeks before images were shown Friday on state television of him at a fertilizer factory. During that period, Kim had missed an annual event held on April 15 honoring his grandfather.
“We don’t know why he chose to miss that moment. We know there have been other extended periods of time where Chairman Kim’s been out of public view as well so it’s not unprecedented. …We’ve seen the same images from yesterday that the world saw, looks like Chairman Kim is alive and well,” Pompeo said.
“Regardless of any of that, our mission remains the same – to convince the North Koreans to give up their nuclear weapons, to verify the same and to then create a brighter future for the North Korean people.”
Asked whether Kim was seriously ill during this period, Pompeo said: “I just can’t say anything about that.” He also refused to say whether the US had any information about whether Kim’s situation was connected to Covid-19 or a heart issue.
As recently as this past week, the US was monitoring intelligence suggesting Kim was in grave danger following a surgical procedure. National security adviser Robert O’Brien acknowledged the US was watching the situation closely on April 21.
CNN’s Kevin Bohn contributed reporting.