An unmanned drone crashed on a South Korean island near a disputed maritime border with North Korea, a South Korean defence ministry official said on Tuesday, triggering an investigation into whether the aircraft was from the North.
The drone fell on Baengnyeong island at about 4pm local time on Monday, when North Korea fired hundreds of artillery rounds in seas close to a disputed maritime line. That triggered a similar show of strength from South Korea in response.
The South Korean military was trying to verify where the drone had come from and what its purpose might have been, and was also looking into any possible link to North Korea’s espionage operations, the military official said.
The official, who asked not to be identified, did not give any further details.
North Korea fired more than 100 artillery rounds into South Korean waters as part of a drill on Monday, prompting the South to fire back. The exercise appeared to be more sabre-rattling from Pyongyang rather than the start of a military stand-off.
Yonhap News Agency, quoting an unidentified South Korean government official, reported that the drone was 2-3 metres long and comprised a Japanese engine and Chinese parts, as well as a small camera.
Yonhap also said the drone was similar to another found in a border city late last month.
North Korea released TV footage last year of practice drones that had been modified to crash into pre-determined targets but it is not believed to operate drones capable of air strikes or long-range surveillance flights.
Small, commercially available remote-controlled aircraft can be modified to carry video cameras and other surveillance equipment.
Monday’s artillery barrage forced South Korean islanders to take shelter a day after the Pyongyang drove up tensions by threatening a new nuclear test after test firing two medium-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching Japan earlier in the week, an act condemned by the United Nations.
South Korea’s defence ministry on Monday said the North fired about 500 shells, 100 of them landing on the south side of the sea boundary.
China, the North’s key ally, expressed concern on Monday and urged the two Koreas to exercise restraint.
In November 2010, North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong island just south of the sea boundary, killing four people and triggering concerns of a full-scale conflict.