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Inter-Korean tensions: Cross-border fire exchanged a day after Kim’s reemergence

North and South Korea have exchanged gunfire on the border in a new wave of tensions that broke out shortly after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un showed up, ending a much-discussed weeks-long absence from the public eye.

The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement that multiple gunshots had been fired from North Korea early on Sunday towards a guard post on the South’s border.

The statement said South Korean forces had responded to the shooting by firing two shots towards North Korea. There were no casualties in the firefight, it added.

“We are taking actions via inter-Korean communication lines to grasp the detailed situation and to prevent any further incidents. And we also maintain a necessary readiness posture,” the statement said.

Later in the day, a South Korean military official with the JCS downplayed the significance of the cross-border firefight, Reuters reported.

The unnamed official said the gunshots did not seem to have been a planned provocation since the area where it occurred was farmland.

“In absence of vision (for the target) and in the fog, would there be an accurate provocation?” the official said.

The incident took place a day after the reappearance of Kim following about 20 days of absence that raised widespread speculation about his health and whereabouts.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Saturday that Kim had inaugurated a fertilizer plant in a region lying north of the capital Pyongyang.

It was the first such report featuring Kim in attendance since April 11.

At the event, Kim was accompanied by several senior North Korean officials and his younger sister Kim Yo-jong, who is regarded as the most likely candidate to step in as successor in case her brother dies or becomes incapacitated.

South Korean Yonhap news agency cited a senior government official as saying on Sunday that Kim had not undergone surgery during his absence.

The official rejected as untrue the reports that Kim may have had surgery, citing some differences in his leg movements, without providing a reason for the absence.

Trump ‘glad to see’ Kim back

Reacting to the news of Kim’s reappearance, US President Donald Trump said he was “glad to see” him back on the scene.

On Saturday, Trump retweeted photos published by the KCNA showing the North Korean leader attending the inauguration ceremony. Trump wrote, “I, for one, am glad to see he is back, and well!”

The two Koreas are split along the 248-kilometer-long, 4-kilometer-wide border region called the Demilitarized Zone that was originally created as a buffer.

The zone — which is one of the world’s most heavily-fortified border areas — is planted with some two million mines and guarded by barbed wire fences, tank traps and combat troops on both sides.

In late 2018, the two neighbors eased some of those measures as part of steps to reduce tensions, but the peace efforts came to a halt amid an impasse in nuclear negotiations between Kim and Trump.

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