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Drone on island was flown by North Korea, South says

A damaged drone is seen on the ground on Baengnyeong Island, South Korea, in this photo released by the South Korea Defense Ministry on Wednesday, April 2, 2014.

SEOUL — Two drone aircraft that crashed in South Korean territory —  including one believed to have flown over the president’s residence — likely belonged to North Korea, government officials said Wednesday. 

An unmanned aircraft was found Monday on Baengnyeong Island, located about 10 miles from North Korea, following a three-hour exchange of artillery fire between the two Koreas along their disputed maritime border. It was the second such drone discovered inside South Korea within the past week. 

Their penetration of South Korean airspace raised questions about the nation’s air defense capabilities at a time when Pyongyang is taking a more aggressive stance toward the South.

In the last two weeks, North Korea has test-fired medium-range ballistic missiles, threatened to conduct a nuclear test, and fired more than 500 artillery shells that landed in disputed waters between the two countries.  

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday reportedly told military officers that his country’s relations with the United States were “grave” and said his military will “thoroughly crush the hostile U.S. policy against the North,” according to South Korea’s Yonhap News. Kim’s remarks were posted on the state-run Korean Central News Agency website.

The discoveries of the unmanned aerial vehicles have only heightened tensions on the peninsula.

The first drone — discovered March 24 in Paju, a city near the Demilitarized Zone — is believed to have flown over and taken photographs of the Blue House, the president’s office and residence in Seoul, a spokeswoman said Wednesday. Because of security restrictions, she could not discuss whether additional protection measures were being taken at the compound or whether the discovery of the drone indicated possible lapses in the country’s air defense capabilities.

Late Wednesday, South Korean defense officials announced their interim findings after inspecting the two light-blue aircraft — whose paint scheme is similar to a North Korean drone displayed at a military parade in Pyongyang last year. But while the drone at the parade was longer than a vehicle, the aircraft found in Paju weighed 33 pounds and was just 6.3 feet long. The one found on Baengnyeong Island was 6 feet long and weighed 27.9 pounds,  South Korea’s Defense Ministry said.

The size of the unmanned aircraft made it easy for them to avoid detection, officials said.

“Because they were so small, it’s difficult to distinguish them by eyesight, and some objects that are this small are considered birds by radar,” a Blue House spokesman said, adding that it was “common sense” that they would be hard to detect. 

During a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, defense officials the drone found in Paju had “entry-level” (meaning very basic or elementary) technology, but was equipped with a Japanese camera that contained images from sites in Seoul and northern Gyeonggi province. 

Spokesman Kim Min-seok said the drone found in Paju was equipped with a small camera similar to those used by civilians. Inscribed on the body of the drone were the dates “2013. 6. 25” and “2014. 6. 25,” and North Korean-style writing indicating that the dates showed when the drone went into service and would expire.

Officials don’t know why the drones crashed, Kim said.

U.S. Forces Korea — which works closely with the South Korean military — would not discuss the matter, saying it does not comment on operational and intelligence matters.

rowland.ashley@stripes.com

chang.yookyong@stripes.com

Twitter: @Rowland_Stripes

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