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Asia

Seoul vows lethal force against illegal fishing

South Korea has warned it will fire upon boats found fishing illegally in its waters. This follows the sinking of a coast guard vessel by Chinese fishing boats causing Seoul to summon Beijing's ambassador.

The South Korean coast guard said Tuesday that its officers would be authorized to use firearms, including pistols and deck cannons, against illegal Chinese fishing vessels if deemed threatening.

The South Korean coast guard vessels regularly chase Chinese boats for fishing illegally off its coast. An incident last week in which Chinese boats rammed and sank a 4.5-ton South Korean coast guard boat has raised tensions, caused diplomatic protest and saber rattling.

"We will actively respond to Chinese fishing boats that obstruct justice by using all possible means if needed such as directly hitting and gaining control of those Chinese fishing boats as well as firing common weapons," Lee Choon-jae, deputy chief of South Korea's coast guard, told reporters on Tuesday.

No injuries were reported in last week's sinking but the dispute remains an irritant in relations between China and South Korea, even as their economic relations grow close and they share concerns about North Korea's nuclear weapons arsenal and ballistic missiles.

Three Chinese fishermen were killed last month in a fire that broke out on their vessel after the South Korean coast guard threw a flash grenade into a room where crew members were hiding.

A long-running dispute over fishing grounds

South Korea and the United Nations Command, which oversees the Korean War armistice, launched a joint operation this summer to keep Chinese fishing vessels from operating illegally off South Korea's west coast.

South Korea has repeated its complaint to China about illegal fishing by Chinese trawlers and urged Beijing to help come up with a permanent solution.

Beijing's Foreign Ministry said Monday that Chinese authorities were still verifying the situation but urged South Korea to remain calm. Qiu Guohong, China's ambassador to South Korea, did not comment to reporters as he arrived on Tuesday at the foreign ministry.

jar/kl (Reuters, AP)

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