North and South Korea have exchanged warning shots along their disputed western maritime border, raising fears of possible clashes.

This comes after both countries accused each other of violating their maritime boundaries early on Monday morning.

South Korea claimed to have sent warnings in an attempt to repel a North Korean merchant ship that had violated its maritime border, and the military said it had carried out a “routine operation” for the incursion.

“We once again call on North Korea to immediately stop its repeated provocations and accusations that harm peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula as well as the international community,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

meanwhile, North Korea said Coast Guard units responded with 10 rounds of artillery after “enemy maritime movement was detected.”

“We have ordered initial countermeasures to decisively drive out the enemy ship,” a spokesman for the General Staff of the North Korean People’s Army said, according to the official KCNA news agency.

Although there have been no reports of fighting between the two sides, the border off the west coast of the Korean peninsula is a source of long-standing enmity.

The latest exchange of fire comes amid smoldering military tensions, with the North conducting weapons tests at an unprecedented pace this year.

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Kim Jong-un says North Korea is ready to use nuclear weapons

“Could lead to a serious firefight”

In recent weeks, North Korea has launched short-range ballistic missiles and hundreds of artillery barrages along its east and west coasts in protest against the South’s military actions.

South Korea’s military last week began its annual defense exercises, which include a four-day exercise involving 20 warships.

The drills aim to strengthen the South’s military capabilities alongside the United States to counter the North’s nuclear and missile threats.

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Experts say North Korea could extend its series of tests, conduct its first nuclear test in five years or launch other provocations if the South and the United States continue joint military exercises.

“Pyongyang’s policy of blaming external threats and projecting confidence in its military capabilities may motivate more risk-taking,” said Leif-Erik Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“North Korean exploration of South Korean defense perimeter could lead to major exchange of fire and unintended escalation.”

The North has already reacted angrily to the drills, calling them provocations and threatening to take retaliatory measures.