South Korea accused North Korea yesterday of heightening tensions on the peninsula by sending warships along a disputed border in the Yellow Sea.
The protest came a day after the North denounced the South for the same reason.
The South's navy command warned it was ready to "sternly deal with any provocation" off the west coast, the scene of bloody clashes in recent years.
"We strongly urge North Korea to immediately stop all activities that may raise tensions," it said in a statement.
The North, in a statement carried by official media on Tuesday, said the "South Korean warmongers' frantic military provocations have been creating a touch-and-go situation in which fresh armed conflicts could occur at any time."
South Korea rejected the North's accusations -- the third time Pyongyang has made such claims in the past month.
"We express our serious concern over a provocative statement. It was not our side but North Korean ships that have violated the Northern Limit Line," the South's navy command said.
North Korean patrol boats violated the sea border four times this year, including the latest incident last week, it said.
The North has insisted on redrawing the line marked by UN forces at the end of the 1950 to 1953 Korean War. Seoul has agreed to discuss the issue at high-level military talks but demands that the maritime border be respected.
Separately, South Korea said yesterday that efforts to solve a banking dispute blocking North Korea's nuclear disarmament were in a "final stage" but a pro-Pyongyang newspaper sounded a note of caution.
"The BDA [Banco Delta Asia] issue ... is in a final stage of settlement as relevant nations have taken various measures," South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon told reporters without giving a timeframe.
The dispute over North Korean funds, which had been frozen in a Macau bank since 2005 at US instigation, has for months blocked any progress on a nuclear disarmament deal. The North has always insisted on getting its US$25 million back before starting to honor the Feb. 13 pact.
"It is the DPRK's [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] consistent demand that the United States allow free transmission of money as before, through the settlement of the BDA issue," said the Choson Sinbo, a newspaper published by pro-Pyongyang ethnic Korean residents in Japan, on its Web site yesterday.
The paper, which usually reflects official thinking, said there appeared "no room for compromise or concession."
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