South Korean troops shoot at civilian airliner by mistake

South Korean marine Corps troops fired at a commercial aircraft flyingnear the tense sea border with North Korea, misidentifying it as one of  the communist North's jet fighters, but no damage occurred, military sources said on Saturday.

A Marine Corps spokesman said two soldiers guarding an island on the waters off the South's western city of Incheon, fired their K-2 rifles for about 10 minutes at around 4 a.m. on Friday. 

The plane was later identified as a flight by South Korean carrier Asiana Airlines making its descent to Incheon International Airport, Seoul's main airport. 

A defence ministry source said the plane, carrying 119 passengers and crew on a flight from China, was undamaged as it was about 500 to 600 metres out of the range of the hand-held K-2 rifles. 

The Yonhap News Agency and other local media said the soldiers believed the plane was flying north of the normal air corridor. Asiana Airlines officials told the news agency the plane never went off course.  "We checked yesterday through the air force and the airport control centre to make sure there were no abnormalities such as being off course," Yonhap quoted a company official as saying. 

Airline officials were not immediately available for comment.  

Yonhap and other news reports quoted marine corps officers as sayingsoldiers will now undergo thorough training on how to identify civil aircraft. Airlines will be asked to ensure their planes do not deviate from set courses. 

Tension remains high between the two Koreas, still technically at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.  Two deadly attacks last year killed about 50 South Koreans, including civilians. 

The North denies responsibility in the sinking last March of a South Korean warship and says it was prvoked in the second incident, the shelling of the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong after the South test-fired shells into disputed waters. The North this month rejected a proposal from Seoul for a series of three presidential summits after a secret meeting of officials from the two countries. The North denounces the South's call for an apology for the two attacks. 

In between the attacks, North Korea unveiled a uranium enrichment programme which opens a second route to make a nuclear bomb  alongside its plutonium programme. 

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