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UN Urges 'Maximum Restraint' By North, South Korea

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (file photo)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (file photo)

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is carefully monitoring the situation in Korea and urges the North and South to resolve any disputes they have through dialogue, a UN spokesman has said.

"[Ban] is closely watching the situation on the Korean peninsula," UN spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters when asked about an exchange of gunfire between between the rival Koreas in the Yellow Sea, the first such clash in seven years.

"He calls for maximum restraint by both parties. This incident highlights the need to resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue and in a peaceful manner," Haq said.

The White House said it hoped there would be no further North Korean sea action that would be seen as escalation.

There were no casualties in the incident that left a South Korean vessel pockmarked with about a dozen gunshots and apparently a North Korean patrol vessel heavily damaged, military officials said.

"North Korea is taking this aggressive stance to show they're not backing down on their security," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the South's University of North Korean Studies.

The North's saber-rattling is often seen by analysts as an means to increase its leverage in negotiations.

It accused the South of starting the latest fray.

"The South Korean military authorities should make an apology to the North side for the armed provocation," the North's KCNA news agency quoted a military official as saying.

Disputed Sea Border

The South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said a North Korean patrol vessel went about 1.3 kilometers into waters claimed by the South. The South issued verbal warnings and fired warning shots. The North responded by opening fire on the South's vessel.

"We fired back," the South said in a statement, adding the North's vessel then retreated.

North Korea in the past year has threatened to attack the South's ships if they come near the Northern Limit Line, a Yellow Sea border set unilaterally by U.S-led U.N. forces at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War that the North sees as invalid.

The two Koreas are technically still at war because their conflict ended with a cease-fire and not a peace treaty.