9:58 am - Wednesday November 4, 2015

South Korea Says Investigation Found Drones Came From North

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SEOUL–South Korea said Thursday an investigation has found that North Korea sent three surveillance drones recently discovered near the border, an announcement likely to fuel concerns about Seoul’s national defense capabilities.

Seoul’s Defense Ministry said a joint U.S.-South Korean probe found flight plans inside chips from the drones that traced them back to locations inside the North.

The light-blue-colored unmanned aerial vehicles were found between late March and early April hundreds of miles from each other near the inter-Korean border.

Pyongyang has denied any involvement, calling Seoul’s claims a fabrication.

Digital photos taken from the aircraft matched the plans of the two drones found in March, while photos couldn’t be retrieved from the third aircraft discovered in April, according to the defense ministry.

The plans showed the drones were programmed to photograph the South’s military facilities, the ministry said.

“This is a clear military provocation that violates the armistice,” said ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok at a briefing, referring to the 1953 cease-fire after the Korean War. The two countries remain technically at war since the agreement.

Mr. Kim said the South would issue a warning to the North and give a “robust response,” without specifying the measures.

North Korea didn’t immediately issue a response through state media.

The ministry has said the aircraft have limited functions and range–with no airstrike capabilities—but national defense experts have raised concerns about the South’s ability to deter threats from the North after photos from the drones showed important facilities including the Presidential Office. The drones’ exact configurations weren’t disclosed.

Mr. Kim said the ministry has reinforced airspace surveillance since the discovery and has readied surface-to-air artillery.

In March, Seoul said it would buy surveillance drones of its own, equipped with superior technology. The four-plane deal with U.S. defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp was valued at $817 million, the ministry said at the time.

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