South Korean troops mistakenly attack passenger jet

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

An Asiana A321, from file
Image: Ellery Cheng.

Troops in South Korea attacked a passenger jet Saturday after mistaking it for a North Korean aircraft. The Asiana Airlines plane was out of range and escaped undamaged; the 119 on board were unharmed.

Soldiers fired 99 rounds, including two blanks, from their K2 rifles at the Airbus A321 as it approached Incheon International Airport on a flight from China. That airport serves Seoul and is 25 miles (40.2 kilometres) from the border between the two Korean states.

The plane's route is disputed. One aviation controller said that the plane was "flying normally" and "did not deviate from its normal route," a claim with which Asiana agrees. However, Yonhap reports that the South Korean marines who attacked the aircraft say it was off-course. A Marine Corps official said the shooting lasted ten minutes as the plane flew over Jumun island. The marines fired from nearby Gyodong.

The troops opened fire with K2s, but the jet was out of range.
Image: W:User:Kahuna028.

Relations between the two Korean countries have been tense since the end of open hostilities in the 1953 Korean War. The South Korean military has recently used photos of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's family for target practice, with the north threatening retaliation. South Korean media claimed yesterday that the south has US-built missiles capable of reaching the northern capital, Pyongyang, and blamed the north for twin bombings that killed 50 people last year.

One current dispute involves nine refugees arriving in the south by boat on June 11. Yesterday, the south said that all wish to defect and, per its policy, refused to hand them back. The north's Red Cross warned on Thursday that failure to do so could lead to further deterioration in Korean relations.

South Korean troops have been told by Defence Minister Kim Kwan-Jin to fire at attacking North Koreans without waiting for or seeking instructions. "Don't ask your commanders whether to fire back or not. Take actions first and then report afterwards," he said on the front line in March. The South Korean military was criticised in November for a slow response to the north's shelling of Yeonpyeong island, which killed four.

The two marines who attacked the plane yesterday had recently been told that the North was increasing military action due to heightened tensions. As a result of the incident, increased training on aircraft identification will be performed. Asiana said they were unaware of the attack until contacted by the military and asked if the jet had been hit.