Conflict & Justice

Fearing N.Korean attack, S.Korean troops fire on Asiana jet


A South Korean woman looks at a Asiana Airlines plane as it lands at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, west of Seoul on June 18, 2011. South Korean troops have fired at a passenger jet flying from China with 119 people on board after mistaking it for a North Korean aircraft, amid increasingly fraught relations on the divided peninsula.


Park Ji-Hwan

South Korean troops fired M-16-style weapons at an Asiana passenger plane carrying 119 passengers and crew thinking it was a North Korean warplane, officials said Saturday.

After being alerted to possible provocative acts by North Korea amid simmering cross-border tensions, two Marine guards on Gyodong island off the western coast of South Korea fired a total of 99 rounds from their K-2 rifles (similar to the M-16) at the ASIANA plane as it descended for landing Friday at Seoul's Incheon airport.

The airport is located about 25 miles south of the inter-Korean border.

"The firing continued [for] about 10 minutes but the plane was too far off the rifle's range and it did not receive any damage," Yonhap quoted a Marine Corps official as saying. "When the plane appeared over Jumun island, soldiers mistook it as a North Korean military aircraft and fired."

The passenger liner was on a flight from China and was reportedly undamaged because it was out of range of the rifles.

Agence France-Presse writes that ties between the two Koreas are at their lowest ebb in more than a decade after Pyongyang announced late last month it was breaking all contacts with the South's conservative government.

The Korean peninsula has remained in a technical state of conflict since the Korean War ended in a truce in 1953. A peace treaty has never been signed.

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The North describes the South's conservative government as a U.S. puppet bent on fueling confrontation. It has also vowed retaliation for the South Korean military's use of photos of leader Kim Jong Il's family for shooting practice, The Telegraph reports.

Seoul, meantime, blames Pyongyang for two deadly attacks that killed 50 South Koreans last year. U.S.-made missiles capable of striking Pyongyang were deployed to South Korean sites near the Demilitarized Zone earlier this year, the Telegrapg writes.

And according to AFP:

The South's Defense Minister Kim Kwan-Jin has told frontline troops that if the North Koreans attack, they should strike back immediately without waiting for orders from top commanders about how to respond.

"Don't ask your commanders whether to fire back or not. Take actions first and then report afterwards," Kim was quoted as saying when he visited the western frontline in March.

South Korea on Friday also refused to send back a group of North Koreans who crossed into southern waters by boat last weekend, saying all nine have expressed the desire to defect, The Telegraph reports.

North Korea has demanded their immediate repatriation, warning on Thursday that failure to send them back would aggravate ties between the two Koreas.