[Seoul] The two Koreas traded heavy machine-gun fire across their border on Friday, as "missing" North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's failed to attend a key political event, fuelling further speculation about his physical health and political future.
No casualties were reported in the exchange of fire which South Korea said was triggered by the North Korean military trying to shoot down balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets that were launched by activists in the South around 1:00pm Singapore time.
Some rounds fell on the South side which then responded with high-calibre machine gun fire "towards the North's guard posts," a defence ministry spokesman said.
There was a further exchange of fire 10 minutes later, he added.
Local residents of Hwangsan-ri township in the border area of Yeoncheon were evacuated to shelters as a precaution.
While naval confrontations along the Koreas' disputed maritime border occur from time to time, any military engagement across the heavily-militarised land frontier is extremely rare.
In 2010, the North shelled the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong, killing four people and briefly sparking fears of a full scale conflict.
The balloon launch from Hapsuri was one of several planned to coincide with North Korea's celebration of the 69th anniversary of its ruling Workers' Party.
Seoul allowed the exercises to go ahead, despite prior warnings from Pyongyang of "catastrophic" consequences.
Some of the balloons carried messages denouncing North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who has not been seen in public for more than a month.
Competing theories for his disappearance range widely from an extended rest period to a leadership coup, via a long list of possible illnesses and ailments including broken ankles, gout and diabetes.
On Friday, Mr Kim was not listed by the state KCNA news agency among the officials who visited the mausoleum housing the remains of his father and grandfather - an annual show of respect to mark the party anniversary.
He was last seen on Sept 3 and his absence on Friday was considered significant as he had attended the ceremony each year since coming to power following the death of his father in 2011.
A heavy smoker, Mr Kim has shown striking weight gain over the past year and recent TV footage had shown him walking with a pronounced limp.