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North Korea Is Invading South With Spy Drones, but They Keep Crashing

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A small aircraft, which South Korea’s military says is a drone from North Korea, is seen at the defense ministry in Seoul, South Korea, on June 21. The unmanned aerial vehicle crashed before returning to North Korea with pictures of a U.S. missile defense system. South Korea’s military condemned the act as a violation of a truce between the neighboring rivals. Lee Jung-hoon/Yonhap News Agency/Reuters

North Korea has been sending drones across its heavily fortified border with South Korea, using the unmanned aircraft to spy on U.S. missile defense systems, an act that Seoul says will have consequences.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday that a “scientific probe” allowed it to determine a suspected North Korean drone found crashed earlier this month was sent by its rival to gather intelligence on a major U.S. military installation. The wrecked device was discovered in Inje county of Gangwon province and contained hundreds of photographs, a few of which captured the U.S.-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD), which is intended to neutralize North Korea’s ballistic missiles. South Korean officials said there would be consequences for Pyongyang’s actions.

Related: North Korea’s Kim Jong-un tries and fails to spy on U.S. missile defense

RTS17YFD A small aircraft, which South Korea’s military says is a drone from North Korea, is seen at the defense ministry in Seoul, South Korea, on June 21. The unmanned aerial vehicle crashed before returning to North Korea with pictures of a U.S. missile defense system. South Korea’s military condemned the act as a violation of a truce between the two neighboring rivals. Lee Jung-hoon/Yonhap News Agency/Reuters

“[We] have confirmed that it’s North Korea’s small unmanned aerial vehicle [UAV] on the basis of clear scientific evidence from the analysis of its flight path and others,” ministry spokesperson Moon Sang-gyun said, according to South Korea’s official Yonhap News Agency.

“North Korea’s act this time is a clear military provocation violating the [1953] Armistice Agreement and the [1992] bilateral nonaggression pact,” Army Brigadier General Heo Tae-keun, deputy chief of the ministry’s policy planning office, added. “[We] will take appropriate measures in accordance with the results of its investigation.”

South Korea and North Korea technically remain at war since clashing in the early 1950s. After reaching a truce in 1953, the nations established a 2.5-mile-wide, 160-mile-long demilitarized zone along their mutual border. Low-intensity clashes and attacks have occurred over the years, however, and South Korea has previously accused North Korea of sending drones to spy on its military installations. Last month, local media reported that the appearance of a North Korean drone prompted the South Korean military to fire up to 90 shots before the aircraft slipped away. Several other UAVs have been captured in recent years, including at least three in 2014.

The device on display Monday was said to have carried a Sony camera with a 64-megabyte memory card containing 551 photographs. Ten of them were low-quality images of THAAD, according to previous military reports on the incident. South Korea’s defense ministry said Monday that the drone began its flight May 5 from Kumgang county, North Korea, and flew more than 165 miles to South Korea’s Seonju county, where THAAD has been deployed, before flying nearly 140 miles back toward the north and ultimately crashing in South Korea’s Inje county near the DMZ, Arirang News reported. The drone was one of up to 300 believed to be in North Korea’s arsenal, according to a 2016 report by Joseph Bermudez, the chief analytic officer at AllSource Analysis Inc. and a frequent contributor to a North Korea monitoring group.

rts13yvw A map displays the deployment site of the U.S.’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System, its operational range and how it works, on April 26. The U.S. says the anti-missile system is necessary for defending South Korea from North Korea’s missiles, but both North Korea and China have protested its installation in the region. Missile Defense Agency/Raytheon/Lockheed Martin/Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance/Union of Concerned Scientists

The news came as the U.S. and China held a bilateral diplomatic and security dialogue in Washington. North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) technology in defiance of U.N. sanctions was widely expected to dominate the meeting, to be led by President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump has called on China to pressure North Korea, an ally, into abandoning its nuclear program, and has suggested Beijing was not doing enough.

North Korea argues that its nuclear weapons are necessary for preventing a U.S. invasion with the aim of overthrowing the government of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and has dismissed Trump’s military threats. While China has expressed frustration with North Korea’s nuclear project, it also deeply opposes U.S. military presence in the region.