Sunday, June 19, 2011 S Korean soldiers fire on airliner


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S Korean soldiers fire on airliner

Investigations begin after two Marine Corps troops shoot 99 rounds from their automatic rifles at an Asiana passenger jet from China descending to Seoul

Investigations are under way into how two South Korean soldiers came to open fire on a passenger jet from China approaching Seoul on Friday morning, reportedly mistaking it for an invading North Korean plane.

South Korea's Marine Corps and Asiana Airlines confirmed the incident, which saw the soldiers fire 99 rounds from their K-2 automatic rifles as the plane descended towards Incheon airport on a flight from Chengdu soon after 4am. No bullets hit the Airbus A320, which was carrying 119 passengers.

The incident comes amid rising tensions between North and South Korea, with Seoul deploying missiles on its fortified border capable of striking Pyongyang and the North scrapping all contacts with the government in Seoul. The two countries have remained technically at war since the Korean conflict ended with an armistice in 1953.

The soldiers were based at a guard post on Gyodong Island, 1.7 kilometres south of the North Korean coast. The plane was flying southeast over Jumun Island, 12 kilometres to the south - a route used by 600 aircraft per day - when the soldiers opened fire.

"The firing continued for about 10 minutes but the plane was too far off the rifles' range and it did not receive any damage," an unnamed Marine Corps official told South Korea's Yonhap news agency. "When the plane appeared over Jumun Island, soldiers mistook it as a North Korean military aircraft and fired."

Air traffic controllers reported that the plane was on a normal course at the time.

Asiana spokesman Jason Kim confirmed the Marine Corps had opened fire after misidentifying the plane. Hong Kong Asiana officials could not be reached for comment last night but flights to and from Seoul were operating normally. Fourteen scheduled return flights operate between Hong Kong and Seoul each week.

South Korean Defence Ministry officials have yet to comment. But the Yonhap news agency said the soldiers gave an initial report 10 minutes after the incident. It is not known if any action will be taken against them.

The incident comes three months after Defence Minister Kim Kwan-jin told frontline troops that if North Koreans attack, they must strike back immediately without waiting for orders from top commanders. "Don't ask your commanders whether to fire back or not. Take actions first and then report afterwards," Kim was quoted as saying in March.

The South remains on heightened alert after two deadly attacks by the North last year. In March, 46 South Korean sailors were killed when a North Korean torpedo sank a South Korean naval ship - an attack still denied by Pyongyang. And four people died in November when several barrages of North Korean artillery shells slammed into a township on the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse, Associated Press

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