A North Korean surveillance drone flew over a South Korean military outpost without interruption on several occasions before and during the two Koreas’ talks on easing military tensions in late August, the military said Wednesday.
The unmanned aerial vehicle, which measured slightly longer than 3 meters, crossed the demilitarized zone (DMZ), which bisects the peninsula, and flew above the compound along the central part of the four-kilometer-wide military buffer, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
The flights took place several times from Aug. 22-24, including just 30 minutes before the two Koreas began their rare high-level talks on the evening of Aug. 22. The negotiations at the truce village of Panmunjom lasted for more than 40 hours and led to a breakthrough deal in inter-Korean ties.
After trading artillery shells over the DMZ on Aug. 20, the North put its military on a war footing and threatened an all-out war with the South, sharply increasing inter-Korean tensions.
The Aug. 25 deal brought the two sides back to peace-time mode, having elicited an expression of “regret” from North Korea over a land mine explosion which maimed two South Korean soldiers in early August and was blamed on the communist country.
The drone flights were presumed to be aimed at monitoring the posture of the South Korean military along the border as the two countries maintained their top-level military alerts.
At that time, the South Korean military detected the appearance of the drone through its low-altitude surveillance radar and an Air Force surveillance system, but failed to intercept it, according to the military.
The military issued its anti-aircraft alert, ‘Hedgehog’ and sent an AH-1S Cobra attack helicopter and an Air force fighter jet to track down the drone, without success, it said. The North Korean drone presumably returned home safely.
“Even in the DMZ area, any North Korean soldier or vehicles that crossed the military demarcation line are immediately subject to warning shots or artillery fire,” one government official said, stressing that Seoul should be more prepared to deal with the infiltration of North Korean drones.
“After traces of an unknown vehicle were detected by radar, the military declared it hostile and responded with an Air Force combat jet and an Army Cobra attack helicopter, but the military’s capacity to hit it was “limited” because the radar detected and lost it repeatedly,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.