Saturday, 29 June, 2002, 05:08 GMT 06:08 UK
"The international media is focused very clearly on South Korea at the moment"
Korean ship battle kills four
Four South Korean sailors have been killed as North and South Korean warships exchanged gunfire near the western sea border, South Korea's defence ministry said.

One South Korean sailor is missing and 18 others were injured in the 20-minute clash near Yeonpyeong island in the Yellow Sea.

The North Korean patrol boat, trailing plumes of smoke, was towed back to the North

Defence Ministry spokesman Hwang Eui-don
One South Korean frigate was sunk and a North Korean vessel was towed from the scene in flames, defence officials said.

The incident follows a series of recent reported border violations by North Korean vessels.


"One of our frigates caught fire in the cabin," ministry spokesman Hwang Eui-don said.

"The North Korean patrol boat, trailing plumes of smoke, was towed back to the North," he added.

North Korean patrol boat, with South Korean in background
Two ships between the two sides clashed three years ago

The South's national news agency Yonhap, quoting an unidentified military source, said the clash occurred at 1025 (0125 GMT).

Firing broke out when South Korean navy vessels tried to repel two North Korean navy warships that were escorting a number of Northern fishing boats well inside South Korean waters, it said.

Warning signal

Defence Ministry spokesman Chung Sung-yeop said that a warning signal was given and that one of the North Korean warship opened fire first.

The South Korean Navy ships immediately returned fire, touching off the gun battle, he said

More than 100 nearby fishing boats fled the scene as the violence broke out.

The BBC's correspondent in Seoul, Caroline Gluck, said that the incident marks the lowest point in North - South relations since the historic summit between the two sides two years ago.

Our correspondent says South Korea's authorities are now discussing counter-measures in the wake of the gun battle.

Repeat offenders

On Friday South Korean officials said that two Northern patrol boats briefly crossed the Northern limit line, the de facto but disputed maritime border between the two Koreas, before returning to the North.

They said another patrol boat entered South Korean waters on Thursday.

Three years ago a series of border violations by North Korean ships sparked the first naval clash between the two Koreas since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

One North Korean warship sank and about 30 sailors were believed to have died.

Our correspondent says North Korea does not recognise the border which was unilaterally imposed by the UN after the Korean War.

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