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North Korean Fighter Jets Intercept US Spy Plane - 2003-03-03

North Korean warplanes intercepted a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft Sunday in what Pentagon officials are calling a hostile action.

The Pentagon says it was early Sunday morning when four North Korean fighters intercepted the American military reconnaissance plane over the Sea of Japan, about 240 kilometers off the North Korean coast.

Officials said they shadowed the U.S. plane for about 20 minutes, at one point closing to within 20 meters. The Pentagon said one of the North Korean jets engaged its fire control radar, locking on the American aircraft.

But the North Koreans did not open fire and the U.S. plane returned to its base safely.

Pentagon sources say the U.S. reconnaissance flights in international waters will continue, but they are concerned, calling the incident hostile and an act of aggression. They say such North Korean activities are unusual but recall a 1969 incident in which a U.S. surveillance plane was shot down, claiming 31 American lives.

The incident occurs at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and North Korea over North Korea's apparent resumption of its nuclear weapons program.