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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

4 Dead as 2 Koreas Clash at Sea

SEOUL, South Korea -- A North Korean warship sank a South Korean patrol boat in the Yellow Sea on Saturday, killing at least four sailors and wounding 19 in the worst border clash in recent years on the world's last Cold War frontier.

The fight broke out after two Northern patrol vessels accompanying fishing boats crossed the sea border and one opened fire after ignoring warnings to retreat, South Korean officials said.

North Korea, however, accused Southern boats of provoking the battle by entering communist territory.

President Kim Dae-jung called an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, while South Korea's military sent a 1,200-ton battleship to the poorly marked border, accompanied by a squadron of fighter jets.

The South Korean military said North Korea suffered about 30 casualties in the fight Saturday, though independent confirmation was not possible.

Without elaborating, North Korea has said there were losses. A Northern warship was seen being towed away from the battle scene in flames, according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In an interview broadcast Sunday, a wounded South Korean sailor gave his account from a military hospital bed in Seoul of the worst clash between the Koreas in three years. Four sailors died and 19 others in the 27-member crew on his boat, which later sank, were wounded. One was missing.

"I could see the number '608' on the North Korean ship and thought the distance was pretty close," Navy Staff Sergeant Hwang Chan-kyu told KBS-TV, a local television news station.

"All of a sudden, I saw a glint of bright light from the enemy ship and a moment later, our ship was ablaze," said Hwang, who suffered minor shrapnel wounds and had a bandage around his head.

South Korean warships returned fire during the 21-minute battle.

Hwang said North Korean shots hit his ship's steering room, fatally wounding the commanding officer, Lieutenant Yoon Young-ha

"Lieutenant Yoon was bleeding heavily from his back but was still alive, so I tried artificial respiration on him but it wasn't helpful," Hwang said. "A few meters away, I saw another colleague dying, and I pulled the trigger on my machine gun like a madman."

Russia expressed serious concern over the clash and said it was a blow to the process of reconciliation.

"Such events fly in the fact of the mood of reconciliation and cooperation gaining ground in Korea after the historic meeting between the leaders of the North and South in June 2000," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The dispute centers on the Northern Limit Line, a maritime border that was drawn up by the U.S.-led UN Command to avert possible clashes after the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

North Korea never accepted the line, and Southern officials say communist boats have repeatedly violated the border over the years.

North Korea refused to apologize Sunday, saying the maritime border where the clash took place was illegal and should be abolished.

The sea border is "a bogus line unilaterally and illegally drawn by [the South Korean military] in the 1950s and our side, therefore, has never recognized it," KCNA, the North's news agency, quoted a North Korean naval official as saying Sunday.

North Korea wants the sea border to be moved further south, which would allow it access to rich crab and fishing waters.