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.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs