(2nd LD) UNC says both Koreas breached armistice by flying drones in each other’s territory
(ATTN: UPDATES with Seoul foreign ministry’s reaction in para 11-12)
SEOUL, Jan. 26 (Yonhap) — The U.S.-led U.N. Command (UNC) announced Thursday both South and North Korea violated the armistice by sending drones into each other’s territory last month.
The UNC released the outcome of a probe by its special investigation team (SIT) into the North’s Dec. 26 drone infiltrations, which led the South to send its drones north of the inter-Korean border in a “corresponding” counteraction.
“The SIT was able to determine that the Korean People’s Army side committed a violation of the armistice when multiple North-side unmanned aerial systems (UAS) entered ROK-controlled airspace,” the UNC said in a press release. It referred to the North Korean military by its official name. ROK stands for the South’s official name, the Republic of Korea.
The command also said the employment of the South Korean military’s UAS across the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas and into the North Korea-controlled airspace constituted an armistice breach.
The UNC stressed adherence to the terms of the armistice is “essential” for mitigating the risk of both accidental and deliberate incidents, and for preserving a cessation of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula.
“UNC will continue to work closely with ROK partners towards those ends,” it said.
The disclosure of the investigation outcome came amid concerns it could risk friction with the Seoul government.
The South’s defense ministry defended its sending of the drones into the North’s territory as the exercise of its right to “self-defense,” stressing the right is not restricted by the armistice.
“The South Korean military’s operation of drones north of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) is a self-defense measure against North Korea’s drone breach and is not restricted by the armistice,” the ministry said in a statement.
The UNC is an enforcer of the armistice that effectively ended the Korean War in 1953.
The South Korean foreign ministry is also reportedly considering asking the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to review whether the North’s drone breach violated the organization’s international convention.
“We condemn the illegal invasion of our airspace by North Korean drones as a clear act of provocation and are reviewing various responses,” a ministry official told reporters.