South Korea’s Yoon warns of ending military pact after North drone intrusion

SEOUL: South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said Wednesday he would consider suspending a 2018 inter-Korean military pact if the North violates his airspace again, his office said, amid tension over a recent drone intrusion North Koreans.

Yoon made the comment after receiving briefings on countermeasures to North Korean drones that crossed into the south last week, calling for building an “overwhelming response capability that goes beyond proportional levels,” according to his press secretary, Kim. Eun-hye.

“During the meeting, he instructed the national security office to consider suspending the validity of the military agreement if North Korea carries out another provocation to invade our territory,” Kim told a briefing.

The 2018 agreement, sealed on the sidelines of a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, calls for an end to “all hostile acts,” the creation of a no-fly zone around the border and the removal of land mines and guard posts inside the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone. The government has not said how many mines and poles were removed, citing security concerns.

Abandoning the pact could mean the return of guard posts, live-fire drills in the former no-fly zone and propaganda broadcasts across the border, all of which drew angry responses from Pyongyang before the pact.

Inter-Korean relations have been tense for decades, but have become even more tense since Yoon took office in May and vowed to take a tougher line against Pyongyang.

During last year’s election campaign, Yoon said Pyongyang had repeatedly violated the deal by launching missiles and warned it may scrap it. He said after taking office that the fate of the pact depends on the actions of the North.

Yoon has criticized the military’s handling of the drone incident, partly blaming the previous administration’s confidence in the 2018 pact.

He has urged the military to be ready to retaliate, even if it means “risking escalation.”

Yoon ordered the defense minister to launch a comprehensive drone unit that performs multi-purpose missions including surveillance, reconnaissance and electronic warfare, and to set up a system to mass-produce small drones that are difficult to detect within a year, Kim said.

“He also called for accelerating the development of stealthy drones this year and quickly establishing a drone-killer system,” he said.

The South Korean military has operated two drone squadrons within its Land Operations Command since 2018, but they were primarily designed to prepare for future warfare.

The Defense Ministry has said it plans to launch another unit focused on surveillance and reconnaissance functions, especially targeting smaller drones.

“The next unit will carry out completely different tasks, carrying out operations in various areas,” Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup told parliament last week.

To increase its anti-drone capability, the ministry last week announced plans to spend 560 billion won ($440 million) over the next five years on technology such as airborne laser weapons and signal jammers.

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