Seoul: Ending a brief media frenzy, South Korea’s military said it turned out to be a flock of birds that prompted it to launch fighter jets and alert journalists that it had detected an unidentified object flying near the border with North Korea on Monday.
The South’s earlier announcement on the flying object left many media outlets scrambling, with the incident coming a day after President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met at a different portion of the heavily fortified Korean border.
South Korea’s military has been under fire for a possible security gap after a boat carrying four North Koreans arrived undetected recently at a South Korean port. Observers say the South’s military had likely released the inconclusive information about the flying object to media to avoid similar criticism of its surveillance posture.
The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff had said earlier on Monday that its radar found “the traces of flight by an unidentified object” over the central portion of the Demilitarised Zone that divides the two Koreas.
South Korean media, citing unidentified military officials, quickly speculated that it was likely be a North Korean helicopter flying across the border into South Korea. But pilots of the several fighter jets deployed to the area later found that the object was a group of about 20 birds, a South Korean military official said, requesting anonymity because he wasn’t authorised to speak to reporters on the issue.
The DMZ, which was created after fighting ended in the 1950-53 Korean War, is peppered with an estimated 2 million mines and guarded by combat troops, razor wire fences, anti-tank traps and guard posts on both sides. The two Koreas have occasionally traded exchanges of gunfire there, though animosities have eased since North Korea entered talks on its nuclear program.
Sunday’s meeting between Trump and Kim, their third, took place at the border village of Panmunjom. Trump stepped across Panmunjom’s military demarcation line into North Korea with Kim, becoming the first sitting US president to set foot in North Korea. He and Kim then turned back to Panmunjom’s southern part before sitting down for a meeting.
Earlier Monday, South Korea’s government said it hopes the diplomatic momentum created by the latest Trump-Kim meeting would help revive inter-Korean dialogue and engagement that stopped amid an impasse in nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.
North Korea’s state media described Kim’s meeting with Trump as “an amazing event.”
North Korea significantly reduced diplomatic activity and exchanges with the South following the summit between Trump and Kim in February that broke down due to disagreements over exchanging sanctions relief for disarmament. North Korea conducted tests of short-range missiles that could potentially threaten the South and demanded that Seoul break away from Washington and resume inter-Korean economic projects held back by US-led sanctions against the North.