SEOUL — Six North Korean fishing boats entered South Korean waters Monday for about an hour before being chased back by southern warships, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said Tuesday.

The boats crossed the Northern Limit Line around 4 p.m. and returned about an hour later without incident, said Lt. Col. Lee Boong-woo, Defense Ministry spokesman.

South Korean military boats warned the North Korean fishermen over a loudspeaker and pursued them, Lee said.

The trawlers’ crews didn’t communicate with South Korean vessels, Lee said, and no North Korean military naval activity was noticed.

The Defense Ministry alerted U.S. Forces Korea to the intrusion, but no assistance was requested, said Lt. Col. Michael Caldwell, USFK spokesman.

Blue crab fishing season — during which North and South Korean fishing boats and military vessels drift dangerously close to one another near the invisible dividing line — begins next month. It did not appear that the six boats were designed for crab fishing, officials reported.

The Northern Limit Line, drawn by the U.N. Command at the end of the Korean War, separates North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea. North Korea has never accepted the line.

In June 1999, North Korean ships repeatedly crossed the division, touching off the first naval clash between the Koreas since the Korean War. One North Korean warship was sunk, killing about 30 North Korean sailors.

On June 29, 2002, five South Korean sailors were killed and 19 injured after a North Korean boat fired on it. South Korean authorities said two North Korean warships crossed into southern territory.

North and South Korea blamed each other for the clash, although North Korea later said it regretted the incident.

In August, U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. James N. Soligan, deputy chief of staff for the U.N. Command, led talks with North Korean military officials at Panmunjom to come up with measures to avoid conflict in the sea, but exact details of the discussions were not released.

— Choe Song-won contributed to this report.

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