Seoul: The rival Koreas traded blame on Thursday for a brief military exchange at a tense maritime border as the United States urged Pyongyang to get back to the main business of denuclearisation talks.
North Korea hit out against it neighbour’s "preposterous" military response to what it says were only blasts at a construction site on Wednesday.
South Korea fired six warning shots toward the border area in the West Sea, but the Defence Ministry rejected the North`s construction blasts assertion. It believes the North was conducting military drills.
The spat occurred barely a fortnight after the two Koreas` nuclear envoys met for the first time in over two years. A week later, a top North Korean diplomat travelled to New York for talks with Washington`s top official on North Korean affairs.
All sides said the exchanges were "constructive", raising hopes for a restart of stalled six-party talks which offer North Korea aid and diplomatic recognition in return for disabling its nuclear weapons program.
The United States said the row should not detract from any progress on the talks.
"This incident is now over and we now need to move back to the main business at hand, which is for North Korea to show ... that it`s truly committed to the kind of goals that we have together in terms of denuclearisation," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington.
The talks also involve China, Japan and Russia.
A top North Korean military official accused the South Korean army of wanting to "vitiate the atmosphere of dialogue" and to "push the inter-Korean relations to the worst phase of confrontation and clash" by firing shells near the border.
The official said Wednesday`s blasts emanated from a construction site in South Hwanghae Province.
"It was preposterous in the age of science when latest detecting and intelligence means are available that they mistook the blasting for shelling and they proved shells fell in the waters around the `northern limit line` though no shells were fired," state media quoted the official as saying.
"It was a tragicomedy that they indiscriminately reacted to what happened with counter-shelling even without confirming the truth about the case in the sensitive waters of the West Sea."
The South`s Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said the response was a justified measure based on the commanding officer`s judgment. He added the North`s comments were typically unreasonable and not worthy of a response.
Even with the flurry of diplomacy, the incident near the disputed Northern Limit Line boundary underscored that tensions still run high after last year`s attacks in the same area.
Fifty South Koreans were killed last year in two separate attacks near the NLL, drawn up unilaterally by the US at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Seoul has since ramped up its military around the NLL, and vowed to hit back hard with air power and bombs against a North Korean attack after the military`s response was criticised for being weak last year.
The South says its new hardline approach is working in deterring further attacks, but analysts say the risk of an escalation is now higher.
"The incident demonstrated that the South is really willing and ready to shoot back this time," said Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University in Seoul.
"In case of a major North Korean provocation, and such provocation is likely to happen at some point in the near future, a possible and likely over-reaction by the South might trigger a major escalation."