Flying objects shot down after crossing North border

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Flying objects shot down after crossing North border

Unidentified flying objects crossed the border from the North over Cheorwon, Gangwon, on Tuesday afternoon, resulting in the South Korean military firing dozens of warning shots at it.

After analysis of the objects, which were initially thought to be drones, the South’s Ministry of National Defense said Wednesday they were confirmed to have been around a dozen balloons carrying propaganda leaflets.

Some 100 K-3 machine gun rounds were fired by the South’s military as warning shots between 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Tuesday after it detected the objects flying over the military demarcation line (MDL) at around 4 p.m., according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The objects flew at an altitude of 1.5 kilometers (4,921 feet) over the demarcation line, and the military initially gave three warning messages over the loudspeaker system before sending out warning shots, said the JCS, which was according to standard military procedure.

This is the first time in over a year that the South Korean military fired warning shots at the frontlines since it fired some 20 rounds with machine guns in January 2016 after a North Korean drone briefly crossed the border before returning.

The South Korean military was initially unable to determine what the objects were because of heavy cloud cover and rainfall.

The military’s radar system initially caught around 10 objects, several of which crossed over the demarcation line to the South and then disappeared from radar shortly after.

The South Korean military discovered North Korean unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with digital cameras in several locations including Paju, Gyeonggi, and Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea in 2014. An investigation by authorities concluded that the drones were part of the arms assigned to North Korea’s borderline troops for reconnaissance activities.

But the JCS analyzed the flight path of the objects and ruled out the possibility that it could be a drone or military aircraft based on its flight speed.

“Through an analysis of the unidentified flying objects, conducted between 8:30 p.m. and noon,” a South Korean military official said Wednesday, “we reached a final conclusion that they were a mechanism to disseminate leaflets to the South.”

The military confirmed this through review footage recorded by a thermal observation device (TOD), which captured shapes resembling balloons and the moment one of them popped.

The official added that this was in fact their initial suspicion, but that because of poor weather conditions they were unable to confirm this.

“We left all possibilities open,” the official said, “including the possibility that it could be a drone, and responded according to operational procedure from this perspective.”

The official added, “North Korea sends propaganda balloons based on weather conditions to the South. It seems as if they are not taking into consideration the launch of the new Moon Jae-in administration.”

This comes amid escalated military tensions as North Korea conducted another ballistic missile launch Sunday, its eighth such test this year.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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