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Saturday, February 20, 2016, 12:40

DPRK conducted artillery drill near sea border: Seoul

By Agencies

DPRK conducted artillery drill near sea border: Seoul
ROK army soldiers ride a K-1 tank during the annual exercise in Paju, near the border with the DPRK, Feb 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL — Sounds of explosions caused Republic of Korea's residents of a front-line island to prepare to evacuate early Saturday, but it was later determined the noise came from a Democratic People's Republic of Korea artillery drill across the rivals' disputed maritime border, officials said.

The false alarm was indicative of the high anxiety between the Koreas in the wake of the North's recent long-range rocket launch and nuclear test.

The ROK's front-line soldiers near the northwest island of Baengnyeong heard several explosions and also saw flashes from what the military believes were shells fired from the DPRK coastal guns at around 7:20 am, said an official from Seoul's Defense Ministry, who didn't want to be named, citing office rules. No DPRK projectile flew south of the maritime border, he said.

The South's office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed several rounds of artillery fire had been heard.

DPRK conducted artillery drill near sea border: Seoul

ROK army K-1 tanks move during the annual exercise in Paju, near the border with the DPRK, Feb 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

An official from the county that governs the island said that residents didn't evacuate although fishing boats returned to their ports. She said that passenger vessels from the island and the mainland port of Incheon were operating normally.

The island of Baengnyeong sits just a few kilometres (miles) from the disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL) border and less than 20 km (12 miles) at its closest point to the North's shore.

Meanwhile, Seoul's Defense Ministry said Saturday that the military completed its search operations for debris from the the DPRK long-range rocket that was launched into orbit Feb 7.

The military said it was unlikely that there were any more crucial parts left to be found in ROK seas. The ministry said that the navy recovered two pieces of debris presumed to be from the launch at an island off the country's western coast on Thursday and Friday.

ROK officials believe the North deliberately blew up the rocket's first stage after burnout to prevent the ROK from retrieving debris.

The DPRK said it launched an Earth observation satellite, but the ROK, the US and the UN said it violated a ban on Pyongyang's missile technology.

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