Military, public getting spooked by North threats

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Military, public getting spooked by North threats

Two small security scares reported by the military yesterday demonstrate that South Korea is getting jumpy about threats of war by North Korea.

Some critics say that’s what the government wants.

A military source told the Joong-Ang Ilbo that the military, together with the police, mobilized a special task force early yesterday morning after it received a report from a resident living in Ansan, South Chung-cheong, that 40 to 50 flying objects resembling parachutes descended on a mountain the previous night.

The resident told the military that human movements were also sensed in the area where the objects fell.

The military checked radar systems but found nothing, the source said. But in case North Korea was trying to infiltrate, officials sent the report up the chain of command to Defense Minister Kim Tae-young. Kim and Lee Sang-eui, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then ordered a military task force formed. Lee, who tendered his application for retirement after being accused of drinking heavily on the night of the sinking of the warship Cheonan in March, remains on duty until his successor is confirmed.

The source said the flying objects turned out to be balloons from a nearby kindergarten.

Separately, the military said it was alerted 10 days ago to a mine explosion on Yeonpyeong Island, near the sea border with North Korea. The June 7 incident injured a marine.

The military became suspicious because hours before the mine exploded, a diving suit was discovered on the shore of the island, around four kilometers (2.5 miles) from the explosion. The military thought the suit may have been used by a North Korean spy who might have planted the mine. A joint investigation by the military and police, however, found that the diving suit was abandoned by a fisherman and that the mine was South Korean, not North Korean.

That the military and public are worried about an invasion from the North may be what the government wants, some civic groups said.

“The government seems to want to control the public and make it easier to pursue its hard-line stance against North Korea,” said an official of the Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea.

By Kim Min-seok, Moon Gwang-lip []
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