SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean officials said Wednesday they suspect that two unmanned drones that crashed recently near the border with rival North Korea were flown by the North on possible surveillance missions.
A drone crashed on frontline Baengnyeong island Monday when the two Koreas fired hundreds of artillery shells into each other's waters in a flare-up of animosity over a long-disputed sea boundary between the countries. On March 24, another drone crashed in Paju, a South Korean city near the land border with the North.
Preliminary investigations found that the two sky-blue small aircraft were both rudimentary drones equipped with Japanese cameras that cannot send video or photos in real time, said Defense Ministry spokesman Kwon Kihyeon. The drones can only take still photos and have to be retrieved to obtain the images, he said.
South Korean officials suspect the drones were from North Korea because Korean-language letters on their batteries are written in North Korean style, Kwon said.
Kwon said the drones took pictures of Seoul, Paju and other areas near the land border, but refused to say which specific sites were taken.
South Korean media reports, citing unidentified military officials, reported that the drones were taking pictures of military facilities on Baengnyeong island, the South Korean presidential office and a highway linking border areas to Seoul.
The reports said North Korea has been operating unmanned drones since the early 1990s.
In March 2013, North Korean state media reported that leader Kim Jong Un inspected a drill of "super precision" drones assaulting simulated targets. In July, North Korea displayed drones capable of launching strikes in a military parade in Pyongyang, according to state media.
The two Koreas have been divided along the world's most heavily fortified border since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 American soldiers are stationed in South Korea to help deter aggression from North Korea.