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between the two Koreas, a worsening of relations unprecedented since 1953

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The tension suddenly rose another notch between the two Koreas on Wednesday, November 2: Pyongyang fired a dozen missiles, which provoked an alarming reaction from South Korean President Yoon Seok-youl. The latter went so far as to denounce a “de facto territorial invasion” by his rival. One of the North Korean missiles had just crashed not far from South Korean territorial waters, an unprecedented event. According to the South Korean army, in fact, it is “the first time since the division of the peninsula”, after the fighting in the Korean War, in 1953, that a North Korean missile fell so close to southern territorial waters. Seoul immediately retaliated by firing three air-to-surface missiles from its Air Force fighters. Barely hours later, North Korea regained the initiative by firing “four short-range ballistic missiles” additional, according to the South Korean military.

Read also: The United States and South Korea launch their largest joint military maneuvers since 2018

This sudden worsening of relations between the two rivals is not really a surprise, insofar as the North Korean fire is obviously a response to the joint military maneuvers of the United States and South Korea, which started on Monday. These exercises, dubbed “Vigilant Storm”, are the largest ever organized by the two countries, with 240 warplanes and several thousand soldiers from the two armies mobilized. According to a statement from the United States Air Force, the combined American-South Korean forces are expected to carry out some 1,600 aerial sorties by Friday, the day scheduled for the end of the maneuvers.

Pyongyang had reacted verbally to these exercises on Wednesday, through Marshal Pak Jong-chon, secretary of the Workers’ Party of North Korea, who called “Watchful Storm” maneuvers “aggressive and provocative”according to comments reported by the official press.

“Dangerous and unstable situation”

The exchange of fire began on Wednesday with the dispatch of a short-range North Korean ballistic missile, which crossed the “Northern limit line”, constituting the de facto maritime border between the two countries. The firing prompted a rare airstrike alert asking residents of the South Korean island of Ulleungdo to take shelter in underground shelters.

Read also: South Korea, US begin four-day joint naval drills

The South Korean presidency said in a statement that “The North Korean provocation is a de facto territorial invasion by a missile that crossed the Northern Limit Line” from the country. The missile, which fell closest to South Korea, landed in waters just 57 kilometers east of mainland South Korea, the military in Seoul said, calling it a “very rare and intolerable” the Pyongyang shot. “We declare that our army will respond decisively”, added a military statement. Shortly after, Seoul announced that it had fired three air-to-surface missiles near where the North Korean missile had fallen. President Yoon then called a meeting of the National Security Council, with South Korea ordering measures “quick and severe so that North Korea’s provocations are paid for at a high price”.

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