South Korea fires warning shots at suspected drone from North

South Korea's military fires at an unidentified object flying over its border with North Korea. VIDEO: REUTERS
A South Korean man watching a television displaying news broadcasts reporting on North Korea's recent medium-range ballistic missile launch at a station in Seoul, South Korea, on May 22, 2017.
A South Korean man watching a television displaying news broadcasts reporting on North Korea's recent medium-range ballistic missile launch at a station in Seoul, South Korea, on May 22, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

SEOUL • South Korea's military fired warning shots at a suspected drone from North Korea yesterday amid tension over Pyongyang's latest missile test which drew international condemnation and a warning from China.

The identity of the object remained unclear, the military said, but Yonhap news agency said it was possibly a drone. More than 90 shots were fired, and it disappeared from radar screens.

The incursion came with tension already high on the Korean peninsula after the North's test launch of a ballistic missile on Sunday, which Pyongyang said proved advances in its pursuit of building a nuclear-tipped weapon that can hit United States targets.

"We urge North Korea to not do anything to again violate UN Security Council resolutions," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said while in Ivory Coast.

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"At the same time, we hope all parties can maintain restraint, not be influenced by every single incident... persist in carrying out Security Council resolutions on North Korea and persevere with the resolution of the issue through peaceful means, dialogue and consultation," he added.

Data released yesterday showed China's imports from North Korea fell last month to a near three-year low as Beijing faces calls to put more economic pressure on its ally.

China - the North's major diplomatic ally and key trading partner - has stopped buying coal from it, denying the regime access to a key source of the hard currency needed to fund its weapons programmes.

But the US has been trying to persuade China to do more to rein in North Korea, which has conducted dozens of missile launches and tested two nuclear bombs since the start of last year, in defiance of United Nations Security Council sanctions and resolutions.

The UN Security Council has condemned Sunday's launch and again expressed its concern over the North's behaviour. The council was due to meet behind closed doors yesterday.

North Korea said on Monday that its latest launch met all technical requirements that could allow mass production of the missile, which it calls the Pukguksong-2.

The test was North Korea's second in a week, and South Korea's new liberal government said it dashed its hopes for peace on the peninsula.

North Korean diplomat Ju Yong Chol told the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva yesterday that North Korea's recent missile tests were a legitimate act of self-defence by a "fully fledged nuclear power".

"It is the United States' hostile policy and its aggressive joint military drills, nuclear threats and military build-up around the Korean peninsula that really aggravate the situation on the Korean peninsula and the region, and which compel the DPRK to also up its nuclear deterrence," he said, referring to the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The South Korean military did not say if the unidentified object was hit by the warning shots yesterday, but the object disappeared from military radar.

Drone incursions have increased in recent years. In January last year, South Korea fired warning shots at a suspected drone which crossed the demarcation line.

"In March and April 2014, small-sized drones believed to be from North Korea were found" in Paju, an island near the western sea border and the city of Samcheok, according to a Defence Ministry White Paper released last year.

In 2010, a North Korean torpedo attack sank South Korean naval vessel Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. In that same year, Pyongyang fired artillery shells onto Yeonpyeong island, killing four people.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2017, with the headline 'South Korea fires warning shots at suspected drone from North'. Print Edition | Subscribe