North Korea and South Korea violated the armistice that governs their shared border by sending drones into each other’s airspace in December, the US-led United Nations Command says.
Five North Korean drones crossed into the South on December 26, prompting South Korea’s military to scramble fighter jets and helicopters as well as send surveillance aircraft into the North to photograph its military installations.
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The UN Command, which has helped oversee the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas since an armistice ended fighting in the 1950-1953 Korean War, said on Thursday that it had conducted a special investigation of the airspace incursions to determine whether there were any violations of the ceasefire.
The drone incursions by the two countries constituted violations, but South Korea’s efforts to shoot down the drones in its airspace did not violate the armistice, the UN Command said in a statement.
Seoul and Pyongyang remain technically at war because no permanent peace treaty has ever been reached to end the Korean War.
“United Nations Command reaffirms that adherence to the terms of Armistice is essential for mitigating the risk of both accidental and deliberate incidents through prevention of escalation, and for preserving a cessation of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula,” the UN Command said.
A spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of National Defence said its military’s use of drones along North Korea’s border is a self-defence measure against the North’s drone incursions and is not limited by the armistice.
North Korea has not publicly commented on the drone incidents.
South Korea’s Yonhapy News Agency reported on Thursday that South Korean soldiers on the border with the North did not initially view the drone overflights as an emergency, a miscalculation that was blamed on the South’s slow response to the incursion.
“Personnel of the Army’s First Corps first detected one of the drones intruding across the inter-Korean border, but they did not regard it as an ‘emergency’ that would have activated key mechanisms to swiftly share and disseminate information among relevant military units,” Yonhap reported.
A review of the delay is being investigated, according to the news agency.
Tensions between the two countries have been rising. North Korea has conducted a record number of missile launches and other weapons tests, and the South has responded with stepped-up military activity, including joint drills with its US and Japanese allies.