World News

Alleged North Korean Drones Fly Over Seoul Presidential House

South Korea has acknowledged a surveillance drone, likely operated by North Korea, flew over the presidential palace in Seoul and took several pictures, before crashing near the border.

Seoul says the crudely built, unmanned aircraft was equipped with a basic camera containing about 200 aerial photographs, including some taken from directly above the presidential Blue House.

Defense Ministry Kim Min-seok said the drone, which was less than two meters long, did not have the capability to transmit the images back to North Korea and was not able to be weaponized.



"It is of primitive standard, and it would not have been easy to use it in an act of terror, or more precisely, it would not have been possible. But it could possibly be used in an act of terror if it gets more developed for long time in the future."



The aircraft, found in the border city of Paju, was one of two suspected North Korean drones that crashed late last month in South Korean territory. The other was recovered on the frontline Baengnyeong Island after the two Koreas exchanged artillery fire into one another's sea boundaries.



Many Korea analysts are downplaying the danger posed by the drones, saying they appear to be poorly designed and unsophisticated.

Robert Kelly is an international relations professor at Pusan National University in South Korea.



"It looks like something I made with my friends in high school. I'm actually pretty impressed that they managed to mount a camera on there."



Kelly, who spoke with VOA by telephone, was referring to pictures in South Korean media that showed wreckage of the light-blue aircraft, which almost had a toy-like appearance.



"I wouldn't really define this as much of a threat. These things are pretty small, and (the North Koreans) already know what the Blue House is -- you can see the Blue House on Google Earth, and you can sort of drive by it. If they were going to drop a bomb on top of the Blue House, it's not too hard to find. I'm not really convinced this is a game changer."



Others see the drones as part of a rising threat posed by North Korea's fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles.

Mark Fitzpatrick is the director of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.



"I think this does represent a threat. It's not the worst of the threats that North Korea poses. These drones can't carry chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. But they're certainly indicators of malicious intent."



Fitzpatrick tells VOA that, with enough time, Pyongyang can likely produce much more sophisticated drone technology without much difficulty.



"It's not such a state of the art technology. Drone technology is becoming very widespread. And given North Korea's military relationship with Iran, which has developed drones of its own and which has been the benefactor of a couple of U.S. very sophisticated drones which crashed on its territory, some of that technology could easily be acquired. So I think what we're seeing today with these toy-like surveillance drones - they're just the beginning of what we'll be seeing in the future."



It is unclear what North Korea intended to accomplish by sending the drones into the South.

Remco Breuker, a professor of Korean studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, tells VOA he would not rule out the possibility that the drone mission is a prelude to a wider escalation of military tensions.



"The thing I'd be worried about now is the North Korean intentions. They've quite clearly, I think, not respected South Korean territorial integrity again. And I wonder what's behind that, and whether we are looking at another escalation of tensions like we saw last year."



Tensions between the two Koreas have risen in recent weeks because of annual joint U.S.-South Korean military drills and a series of rocket and ballistic missile launches by Pyongyang.

Earlier this week, North Korea fired 100 artillery rounds into the sea on the South Korean side of the maritime border, prompting Seoul to fire its own rounds back into northern waters. No one was injured in the exchange.

The two Koreas remain in a technical state of war following their 1950s armed conflict, which ended in a truce and not a formal peace treaty.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs