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South Korea threatens to cancel the buffer zone agreement after the incursion of drones

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South Korean President Yoon Sok Yul said on Wednesday that he would consider suspending the 2018 agreement that established maritime buffer zones with North Korea if Pyongyang “violates” Seoul’s territory again.

The agreement, struck during a high-level diplomatic briefing at a summit in Pyongyang, was aimed at easing military tensions along the heavily fortified border.

At the time, the two sides agreed to “stop various military exercises targeting each other along the Military Demarcation Line,” but Pyongyang began to repeatedly violate the agreement last year.

North Korea has fired artillery at the maritime buffer zones defined in the agreement several times in 2022, and last week sent five drones across the border into South Korean airspace.

The violations prompted growing calls from ruling party lawmakers for the hardline Yoon administration to scrap the four-year-old agreement signed under President Moon Jae-in.

Yoon Hee’s spokeswoman told reporters on Wednesday that Yoon had instructed his security aides to “consider suspending the military agreement if North Korea carries out another provocation that violates our territory.”

Yoon also called for “large-scale production of small-sized, hard-to-detect drones by the end of the year” and the establishment of a multi-purpose drone unit for “overwhelming counter-attack capability.”

North Korea’s drone incursion, its first in five years, prompted an apology from Seoul’s defense minister after the military failed to shoot down any of the drones despite a stampede of planes in a five-hour operation.

Canceling the 2018 agreement “will increase the chance of an escalation of military tensions and an actual clash in the border areas,” Hong Min of the Korea Institute for National Unification told AFP.

He said that despite Pyongyang’s violation of the agreement, the agreement helped “prevent a major military clash”.

“It would be a much different story if Yun put an official and political end to the deal.”

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