An armed North Korean agent was shot to death today just inside South Korea, the South's Defense Ministry said. The incident was a rare burst of deadly violence near the nations' tense border.
South Korean authorities launched an extensive manhunt for more armed Communist agents believed to have infiltrated the area near Paju, 25 miles north of Seoul.
An alert was issued for all military units along the roads leading to Seoul. All cars traveling to Seoul from the area were stopped and checked.
The reported scene of the incident in Paju is situated along the strategic "western corridor" of the 155-mile border. The corridor was used by North Koreans to invade South Korea in 1950, starting a three-year war.
The border is the world's most heavily armed, with a total of nearly 2 million troops deployed on both sides. No peace treaty was signed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, and the two nations remain technically at war.
The Defense Ministry said two South Korean soldiers standing guard near the Imjin River, which flows along the border, threw two grenades and opened fire after detecting signs of intruders during the night.
After dawn broke, soldiers found a pair of swimming flippers, the ministry statement said. The soldiers then discovered the body of a North Korean agent in a wet suit, along with two assault rifles and two knapsacks, it said.
Many footprints were found near the area, indicating more than one infiltrator, the ministry said.
Further details were not immediately available, and there was no immediate comment from the North.
The clash comes as inter-Korean relations are deteriorating because of political and military tensions.
U.S. and South Korean military officials have warned that North Korea might provoke border clashes to highlight its demand for replacing the 1953 armistice with a peace treaty signed with the United States.
North Korea has been trying to dismantle the Korean armistice to pressure Washington to start negotiations to establish a new Korean peace system. The United States has rejected the North Korean demand, saying the Koreas themselves must negotiate a new arrangement.