November 16, 2018 12:27
The Defense Ministry is seeking to expand a no-fly zone over the demilitarized zone to the estuary to the Han River and the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border between the two Koreas. The plan is part of an inter-Korean military agreement signed during the inter-Korean summit in September.
"The current no-fly zone was set up across the military demarcation line," a ministry spokesperson said Thursday. "We're going to discuss with North Korea whether to expand it to the NLL in the East and West Seas and the Han River estuary."
This has caused some alarm since a no-fly zone in the area could make it difficult to defend the northwesternmost islands as well as the Seoul metropolitan area.
The North continues to develop multiple rocket launchers, which pose a direct threat to Seoul and nearby areas. North Korea is also staging military drills even as South Korea is seeking to ease military tension, while criticizing the South for staging its own military exercises and joint small-scale marine drills with the U.S.
But a military officer here dismissed the North Korean drills as "a routine activity." The previous day, an official with the National Intelligence Service dismissed reports that North Korea has at least a dozen secret missile sites. "We already knew about it," the official said.
The two Koreas did not designate a no-fly zone over the East and West Seas in their military agreement because there is no agreed baseline delineated there. The North does not recognize the NLL, which was drawn up by the U.S. and its allies after the Korean War, despite President Moon Jae-in's statement that the North consistently expressed "its recognition of the NLL" at both inter-Korean summits in April and September.
"The two sides will have to reach agreement on a baseline in the area near the NLL in the West Sea," the ministry spokesperson said.
Currently, military aircraft are banned from flying over a 9-km-wide zone from the NLL in the East and West Seas. Once the no-fly zone is expanded, their reconnaissance activities will be restricted further.
The military has had a contingency plan to respond with ground, naval and air forces to any surprise attacks from the North since it shelled Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, and that plan will also need revising. Some experts fear that this could compromise the safety of civilian aircraft flying over the area, as well as Incheon International Airport. But the spokesperson said the no-fly zone does not apply to civilian aircraft.
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