A drone, likely from North Korea, is suspected of having taken photographs of the advanced US anti-missile system deployed in South Korea, the South Korean military said on Tuesday.
It said that the drone took about ten photos and crashed on its way home.
The finding came four days after North Korea tested new anti-ship missiles in a continuation of its weapons launches that have complicated new South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s push to improve ties frayed over the North’s nuclear ambitions.
Mounted with a camera, the drone was found last week in a forest near the border with North Korea. It was similar in size and shape to a North Korean drone found in 2014 on an island near the border.
South Korean investigators have since discovered hundreds of photos from its Sony-made in-built camera, a Defense Ministry official said, requesting anonymity because of department rules.
Ten of the photos were of the US missile launchers and a radar system installed in the southeastern town of Seongju, while the rest show mostly residential areas, farming fields and other less-sensitive areas in the South, the official said.
South Korea is hosting the anti-missile system, known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), about 250 km (155 miles) from the border with North Korea, to counter a growing missile threat from the North.
“We will come up with measures to deal with North Korean drones,” said an official at South Korea’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who also declined to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to the media.
North Korean drones are known to have flown over South Korea several times.
North Korea has about 300 unmanned aerial vehicles of different types including one designed for reconnaissance as well as combat drones, the United Nations said in a report last year.
The North Korean drones recovered in South Korea were probably procured through front companies in China, with parts manufactured in China, the Czech Republic, Japan and the United States, it added.
The neighbors are technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce and not a peace treaty.
South Korea and the United States agreed last year to deploy the THAAD unit in response to North Korea’s relentless development of its ballistic missiles, and nuclear weapons, in defiance of UN sanctions.
China strongly objects to the THAAD system saying its powerful radar can probe deep into its territory, undermining its security and upsetting a regional balance. China also says the system does nothing to deter North Korea.
South Korea and the United States say the system is aimed solely at defending against North Korean missiles.
Earlier, Moon nominated a veteran government official with long experience in handling ties with North Korea as his new minister in charge of handling tricky relations with the unpredictable neighbor.
The nominee to lead the Unification Ministry, Cho Myoung-gyon, has deep understanding of the new administration’s North Korea policy and the issues facing the two Koreas, the presidential office said.
Moon wants to engage North Korea in dialogue and revive stalled exchanges with the reclusive country including economic cooperation projects, saying sanctions alone have failed to rein in North Korea’s accelerating development of weapons.
Cho spent much of his career at the Unification Ministry, which handles North Korea ties, and was involved in preparing a 2007 summit between leaders of the two Koreas.
Cho also oversaw South Korea’s economic cooperation projects with the North, including a jointly run industrial complex in Kaesong, just north of the border.