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Thursday, June 17, 1999 Published at 00:10 GMT 01:10 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

US to monitor Korean clashes

South Korea says it will respond with force to further provocation

The United States is to send warships and surveillance planes to the Yellow Sea where North and South Korean naval vessels have been in daily confrontations for the past week.

The BBC's Andrew Wood: "20 North Korean fishing boats crossed into the buffer zone"
In one clash on Tuesday, a North Korean vessel was sunk, and several vessels from both sides were damaged during an exchange of fire.

North Korean radio has accused Seoul of pushing the situation ''to the brink of war''.

[ image: South Korean marines patrol the coast]
South Korean marines patrol the coast
On Wednesday, the Pentagon called on North Korea to stop its violations of the disputed waters off South Korea.

Spokesman Captain Mike Doubleday said the two American ships were being sent from the US fleet based in Japan to monitor the situation with the backing of electronic surveillance aircraft.

The dispute is over the right to exploit lucrative crab fisheries off the Korean peninsula.

(Click here to see a chart of North and South Korean military capabilities)

Reports said the sinking occurred when South Korean warships tried to push North Korean boats back towards their own waters.

They say the North Koreans opened fire with 27mm cannons.

Andrew Wood: "Prudent measure, says US"
South Korean warships returned fire, hitting the North Korean torpedo boat which then sank. Reports said 17 crew were killed.

Captain Doubleday said seven South Koreans were wounded in the shooting incident.

'Reckless provocation'

In spite of the confrontation, the South Korean Government has insisted it will stick with what it calls its "sunshine policy" of trying to improve relations with the North.

[ image:  ]
But North Korea described the clash as an "intolerable defilement" and a "reckless provocation" on the part of South Korea.

The shooting erupted just 30 minutes before generals of the American-led UN Command (UNC) were due to sit down with North Korea to discuss the stand-off in the border truce village of Panmunjom.

The meeting lasted 90 minutes, but little progress appeared to have been made.

The so-called demilitarised zone between North and South Korea is one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world.

The two countries are technically still at war because the Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

The UNC unilaterally demarcated the sea frontier in 1953 after the halt in the Korean War, creating a buffer zone to the south to avoid armed clashes.

[ image:  ]

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