North Korea

Balloons, not North Korean drone, prompted warning shots from South

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 May, 2017, 3:28pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 May, 2017, 3:28pm

Flying objects that prompted South Korean forces to fire warning shots this week appeared to be balloons carrying propaganda leaflets from the North, Seoul’s military said Wednesday.

On Tuesday the defence ministry said troops had opened fire when an unidentified flying object entered the country’s airspace across the tense border with North Korea, with a military official saying it appeared to be a drone.

Defence ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun on Wednesday said that detailed examinations pointed to “balloon-like objects”, 10 of which were observed flying with the winds in the border area.

Some of them travelled into the South’s territory, he said.

Both Koreas - plus anti-Pyongyang activists based in the South - send leaflets across the border, tied to gas-filled balloons.

But Moon ruled out the possibility of the balloons coming from the South, saying that both Seoul and the southern-based activists use cylindrical balloons, rather than spherical ones.

Lee Min-bok, a North Korean defector-turned-activist, said that cylindrical balloons made of plastic cost much less than round rubber ones.

“If the suspected balloons were spherical, then I suspect they were from North Korea”, he said.

Tensions are high in the region over the nuclear-armed North’s weapons ambitions.

South Korea has repeatedly accused the North of flying suspected spy drones across the tense border.

In 2014, soldiers exchanged machine gun and rifle fire after South Korean activists released anti-North Korean propaganda balloons across the Demilitarized Zone, but no casualties were reported.

In January 2016, South Korea’s military fired warning shots after a North Korean drone briefly crossed the border.