South Korea said Wednesday it fired warning shots at a North Korean patrol boat that tried to intervene after Seoul seized a North Korean ship and its seven-member crew.
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This incident occurred on the eve of the presidential elections in South Korea and in the context of heightened tensions with Pyongyang, which, since the beginning of the year, has carried out a record number of missile launches.
The same source said, after the warning shots, the North Korean patrol boat returned to the North.
A representative of the Ministry of Defense stated that the seven crew members of the boat were being questioned by the authorities.
According to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, they told the authorities that they crossed the inter-Korean sea border after a “navigational error” and asked to “return” to North Korea.
The South Korean official declined to confirm any of the information, citing an ongoing investigation.
Leif Eric Easley, a professor at Eha University in Seoul, estimated that a patrol boat crossing the actual maritime border “will inevitably take on a political dimension, as happened on the eve of the presidential election in South Korea.”
He added that Pyongyang generally requires the immediate repatriation of its citizens, but the COVID-19 pandemic may complicate the process.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, North Korea has isolated itself from the rest of the world in order to protect itself from the virus in a country due to its notorious health infrastructure and lack of vaccination for its population.
“People who were in South Korea when the country saw a record number of Covid cases may not be welcome,” Easley noted.
South Korea is in the midst of a wave of the Omicron variant, with more than 200,000 new cases per day. More than a million residents who have tested positive for the virus are currently being isolated in their homes, according to health authorities.
The Yellow Sea, off the Korean Peninsula, has been the scene of inter-Korean military clashes along the inter-Korean maritime border disputed by Pyongyang.
One of the deadliest accidents occurred in 2010 when a South Korean warship was torpedoed by a North Korean submarine, killing 46 sailors.
Pyongyang has denied any involvement in the attack.
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