Lax security front

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Lax security front

The latest incident of a North Korean fishing boat sailing into the South Korean waters and mooring in the eastern harbor of Samcheok Harbor, Gangwon, is as farcical as the 2015 case of a North Korean soldier knocking on a South Korean guard post to turn himself in for defection. Both raised grave concerns about border security as our soldiers were unaware of their intrusion until they arrived.

Both then and now, the military tried to hide the embarrassing truth. In 2015, the military first lied that a North Korean soldier was persuaded to defect, but later corrected themselves by saying he had knocked on the guard post door to turn himself in after crossing the border unstopped. The military initially announced it had discovered a North Korean fishing boat near Samcheok and only admitted that it had lied after media reports were published confirming a resident had reported suspicious visitors roaming around the dock.

According to the ministry, a 10-meter (32.8-feet) boat carrying four North Koreans left Kyongsong in North Hamgyong on June 9 and crossed the Northern Limit Line — the eastern maritime border — on June 12. They turned off their engine and floated for 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) to 6 kilometers off the shore. The Coast Guard was unable to detect them.

Under the maritime border guard manual, Navy and Coast Guard officials would have to give warning to any North Korean vessels nearing or crossing the sea border. If it does not comply, the Navy must seize the boat after search. But the Navy was not even aware if its penetration. The authorities were in the dark even as the North Korean boat sailed along Ulleung Island and docked at Samcheok Harbor after staying in the water for a few days. It is hard to believe that it went unnoticed when the boat was just 4 kilometers from the land.

Nothing made sense about the way the North Korean boat landed in the South. The security front has become lax because the military has forgotten its duty. It must have let down its guard against the North after the Defense White Book erased the reference to North Korea as our enemy. Trainees even say they want to skip marching because it is too hard and there was a petition on the presidential homepage complaining about a commander of a division being too rigorous at a training camp. Of the four fishermen who came under custody, the government sent two back to the North. The military claims it was the wishes of North Koreans to return, but raises suspicion about the reaction supposedly aimed at not upsetting North Korea.

Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo warned of “grave consequences” for those accountable. But who should be responsible for lax military discipline? Upholding the peace momentum is important, but a tight defense must come first.
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