S Korean marines fire on passenger plane

Marines fired rifles at a South Korean civilian plane as it was descending to land after mistaking it for a North Korean military aircraft, an airline official said today.

The Asiana Airlines jet, carrying about 119 people, was undamaged and no-one was hurt.

An Asiana official confirmed that marines fired small weapons at one of the airline's planes coming from China and that there was no damage.

Two marine guards stationed on Gyodong island near the border fired rifle rounds at the flight as it approached Incheon International Airport west of Seoul, mistaking it for a North Korean military plane, the Yonhap news agency said.

The jet was flying out of range of the rifles and avoided damage, it said.

The airport is located about 25 miles south of the inter-Korean border.

Yonhap quoted its source as saying the marines claimed the plane was flying off course.

News of the incident comes as South Korea refused to send back a group of North Koreans who crossed into southern waters by boat last weekend, saying all nine have expressed the desire to defect.

North Korea has demanded the immediate repatriation of all nine people who landed on a South Korean-held island last Saturday aboard two small boats. Pyongyang warned that failure to send them back would aggravate ties between the two Koreas.

North Korea threatened earlier this month to retaliate for the South Korean military's use of photos of leader Kim Jong Il's family for shooting practice.