By Frank Kamuntu
North and South Korea exchanged gunfire around the South’s guard post early on Sunday, raising tension a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended an almost three-week absence from public life with state media showing him visiting a factory.
Multiple gunshots were fired from North Korea at 7:41 Am local time toward a guard post in South Korea that borders the North, the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
South Korea responded by firing two shots towards North Korea, although no injuries were reported.
The South Korean military later said the North Korean gunshots were “not deemed intentional,” according to the local news agency.
After weeks of intense speculation about Kim’s health and whereabouts, the country’s official media published photographs and a report on Saturday that Kim had attended the completion of a fertilizer plant, the first report of his appearance since April 11.
Kim was seen in photographs smiling and talking to aides at the ribbon-cutting ceremony and touring the plant.
The exchange of gunshots was the latest confrontation between the rival Koreas that technically remain at war.
Choi Kang, vice president of the Asian Institute for Policy Studies, said the timing of the “gray area” provocation shows Kim is still in charge of the North Korean military.
“Yesterday, Kim was trying to show he is perfectly healthy, and today, Kim is trying to mute all kinds of speculation that he may not have full control over the military,” Choi said.
“Rather than going all the way by firing missiles and supervising a missile launch, Kim could be reminding us, ‘yes I’m healthy and I’m still in power.’”
Ewha University international affairs professor Leif-Eric Easley in Seoul said the shooting incident could be aimed at boosting morale in the North Korean military.
“The Kim regime may be looking to raise morale of its front-line troops and to regain any negotiating leverage lost during the rumor-filled weeks of the leader’s absence,” said Easley.