North Korea Navy Crosses South's Border

SEOUL -- North Korean naval vessels intruded into South Korean waters on Friday as Seoul conducted its biggest-ever civil defense drill to test its readiness against attack from the North.

A Defense Ministry spokesman said three Northern patrol vessels had crossed a maritime demarcation line and engaged in a three-hour standoff with Southern naval destroyers.

The reported intrusion -- the latest in a string of military provocations by North Korea across the border -- began at 2:35 p.m., just minutes after air raid warning sirens sounded across South Korea.

At the same time, South Korean warplanes streaked across the skies as part of a drill to test warning systems revamped after a North Korean defector in a MiG-19 fighter exposed a gaping security hole last month.

The spokesman said the North Korean vessels had appeared near the South Korean island of Yonpyong off the west coast of the Korean peninsula.

"The North Korean boats sailed 6.4 kilometers into our waters. The navy dispatched destroyers and ordered them to return but the northern vessels headed north about three hours later," the spokesman said. No shots were fired.

Last month, a similar confrontation, involving five Northern ships, also ended peacefully. This followed a number of incursions across the land border in April designed by Pyongyang to show its contempt for a truce agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

Pyongyang calls the accord a "worthless piece of paper."

Friday's exercise involved the air force, army, navy and all branches of the police and civilian rescue services.

A total of 20 fighters and helicopters roared across the skies of Seoul and other major cities as pedestrians ran for underground shelters and cars pulled over.

It was only the second time in recent years that air force jets have been allowed to fly over the capital.

South Korea regularly conducts smaller exercises, but Friday's drill had special importance following the failure of Seoul's air raid warning system when a North Korean air force captain defected on May 23.

The aging MiG-19 piloted by Li Chol-su should have triggered honking sirens in Seoul, but the 12 million people in the city located just a few minutes' flying time from the North Korean border were unaware of the potential danger.