United Nations Command says it is unable to determine if North Korea accidentally fired in DMZ shooting

The Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas is seen from South Korea's Dora Observatory in May 2017.


By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 26, 2020

SEOUL, South Korea – The United Nations Command accused both Koreas of violating the 1953 armistice agreement during an exchange of gunfire across the border earlier this month, but investigators failed to determine if the North fired on purpose, officials said Tuesday.

North Korean soldiers fired four rounds of 14.5mm small-arms from a guard post on their side of the Demilitarized Zone upon the U.N. Command guard post 250 at 7:41 a.m. on May 3, the U.N. Command said in a press release.

“However, the investigation was unable to definitively determine if the four rounds were fired intentionally or by mistake,” the command said, adding that North Korea had acknowledged receiving a request for information about the incident but had not offered a formal response.

South Korean guards responded 32 minutes later with two volleys of gunfire and two broadcast warnings toward the North, it said.

South Korea’s military insisted its troops had followed proper procedures and expressed regret that the UNC released the results without “a practical investigation of the North Korean gunfire.”

“Our military unit on the ground took appropriate measures according to our response manual,” the defense ministry said in a statement.

It also promised to continue to work to implement an inter-Korean military agreement signed in September 2018 and to take other measures aimed at easing tensions between the two nations.

The probe was launched shortly after the incident by the U.N. Command, which is led by Gen. Robert Abrams, who also commands U.S. Forces Korea, and is in charge of enforcing the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War in lieu of a peace treaty.

The DMZ, about 155 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, has often been a flashpoint between the two Koreas and past violence has pushed the two countries to the brink of conflict.

The border is lined with barbed wire fences and filled with land mines with tens of thousands of combat troops on both sides.

Investigators determined that both sides “committed armistice agreement violations with unauthorized small-arms fire across the Military Demarcation Line,” said Army Col. Lee Peters, a spokesman for the U.N. Command, which is led by Abrams who also commands U.S. Forces Korea.

The command said it had the full cooperation of the South Korean military and will conduct follow-up discussions with both sides “to encourage an implementation of measures” to prevent further armistice violations from happening.

The findings provided new details but shed little light on how the exchange of gunfire began.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and South Korean military officials have said they believe that North Korean troops fired accidentally because it was foggy and reportedly the time for a shift change during which weapons are tested. Farming activity on the northern side also was said to continue uninterrupted.

Twitter: @kimgamel