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North Korean naval boat crosses disputed sea boundary with South

SEOUL, South Korea — A North Korean naval boat crossed the disputed Yellow Sea boundary on Monday, a South Korean official said, as the U.S. and the South kicked off annual military exercises.

The initial crossing by a patrol boat estimated to weigh 420 tons occurred at 10:56 p.m. near the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said Tuesday at a briefing in Seoul. The North Korean boat turned around when the South Korean navy sent a radio message warning of a "stern" countermeasure, Kim said.

"It appears to be an intentional crossing of the Northern Limit Line (NLL) and related to training," he said.

The U.S. and South Korea began annual drills on Monday that the North denounces as preparations for an invasion and demanded the South call off. The two Koreas today finished their six-day reunions of families separated by the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended without a peace treaty.

The North Korean patrol boat trespassed the NLL twice more before it finally returned to its side at 2:25 a.m. Tuesday, Kim said. The South Korean Navy radioed its warning about 10 times in the process, he said.

North Korean naval boats crossed the NLL a total of three times last year, Kim said. The de facto border, drawn by a U.S. commander at the end of the war, has been the site of three naval skirmishes between the two Koreas since 1999.

In March 2010, a South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan, was torpedoed and sank, with the deaths of 46 sailors. North Korea denies attacking the Cheonan. In November 2010, North Korea shelled the border island of Yeonpyeong.

Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, the two sets of drills between the U.S. and South Korea, will draw thousands of U.S. troops from abroad, ending on March 6 and April 18, respectively, according to U.S. Forces Korea. The U.S. maintains 28,500 troops in South Korea to help rebuff any attack from the North.

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