South Korea says North Korea must immediately withdraw an implicit
threat it made this week to civilian airliners. Major airlines have
adjusted their routes.
South Korean Unification Ministry
spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said Friday, North Korea must immediately move
to ease worries it has caused about regional air travel.
He urges the North to immediately withdraw the military threat against the South's airliners.
Korea warned it "could not guarantee the safety" of South Korean
civilian flights that pass through or near its airspace. Pyongyang
blamed recent North-South tensions which it says are heightened by the
impending start of annual U.S.-South Korean joint military drills
scheduled for next week. The U.S. deploys about 28,000 troops
here to deter a repeat of the North's 1950 invasion.
Spokeman Kim says this is the first time North Korea has directed such threatening remarks at South Korean civilian flights.
says threatening civilian airliners' normal operations violates both
international aviation regulations and humanitarian principles.
Korea's two main airlines, Korean Air and Asiana, have rerouted flights
out of North Korean airspace as a precaution. Cho Young-Chul is a
spokesman for Korean Air.
He says the changed routes mainly
affect flights coming from the United States and other western
countries. He says the change was mandated by the government out of
concern for safety.
In keeping with past aviation agreements,
about 14 South Korean flights pass through airspace along North Korea's
east coast every day. About 19 flights from other countries use a
similar route daily. Airline officials say rerouting will add about 30
minutes to most flight times, and cost more in fuel.
Korean warning comes amid expectations of an imminent rocket launch by
the North. Pyongyang said last week it intended to launch a
"satellite" in the interest of space research. However, U.S., Japanese,
and South Korean officials believe the North's real intention is to
test a long-range missile.
Yang Moo-jin is a scholar at the
University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. He says it is unlikely
the North's warning is an indication it has imminent plans to launch
He says North Korea was careful to mention only
South Korean civilian aircraft in its warning. If Pyongyang had warned
all international flights to clear its airspace, says Yang, it would
have been a much stronger indication it was planning an imminent launch.
from the United Nations Command, which monitors the tense North-South
Korean land border, met with their North Korean counterparts Friday in
the border village of Panmunjeom. They say they told the North the
airliner threat was "entirely inappropriate." They also offered
reassurance that next week's U.S. - South Korean military drills are
routine, and purely defensive in nature.