ROK-U.S. News

(Yonhap Interview) As dedicated fan, ex-U.S. Ambassador Lippert continues to be envoy for S. Korean baseball

YONHAP News  |  By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, May 14 (Yonhap) — His term as the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea may have ended three years ago, but Mark Lippert continues to serve as an envoy for South Korean baseball in Washington.

The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) is enjoying newfound fame this month, with the U.S. sports cable giant ESPN carrying six live games per week. It’s the only live baseball available on U.S. television, as Major League Baseball (MLB) has been unable to begin its season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

And Lippert, who became a fan of the KBO club Doosan Bears during his term here from 2014 to 2017, is glad to promote the KBO brand of baseball for anyone who is interested or curious.

In this file photo from March 23, 2019, Mark Lippert, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, poses for a photo at a Korea Baseball Organization game between the home team Doosan Bears and the Hanwha Eagles at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul. (Yonhap)

In this file photo from March 23, 2019, Mark Lippert, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, poses for a photo at a Korea Baseball Organization game between the home team Doosan Bears and the Hanwha Eagles at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul. (Yonhap)

“It’s the complete package: great baseball, great players, great action, great fans and with a uniquely Korean twist,” Lippert said in a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency. “There is something in it for everyone — baseball expert, casual fan, foodies, music lovers or for folks who are just curious about Korean culture.”

Now a senior adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, Lippert said it is “not hard at all” to watch weekday games on ESPN, despite the odd hours in the Eastern Standard Time (EST) zone, given the time difference. A weekday game in the KBO begins at 5:30 a.m. EST, while weekend games begin at 1 a.m. or 4 a.m. EST.

In the past, he would wake up early and watch games on the Korean portal site Naver, which streams KBO games, while walking his dog, Grigsby, or making breakfast for his two South Korean-born children, Sejun and Saehee.

“This year, it’s been especially fun because I can watch live on ESPN and follow the chat rooms and live (text) updates of other games on Naver,” Lippert said. “Later in the day, I can catch the replays. It’s been great!”

Lippert said he thinks the U.S. exposure for the KBO will “leave an indelible mark in the minds of MLB fans that there is a very special professional league in Korea, and that the KBO deserves, at the very least, some significant space in the professional baseball conversation and consciousness.”

“I do think there will be a lasting impact,” Lippert added. “I also hope it will lead some (American) fans to go to Korea to watch games in person because there is nothing, and I mean nothing, like a KBO game.”

Lippert himself has traveled to South Korea to watch a few KBO games, including the Bears’ home opener in the 2019 season. His last games were Games 1 and 2 of the 2019 Korean Series; the Bears won those games in their last at-bats in the bottom of the ninth inning, and went on to sweep the Kiwoom Heroes for the third title in five years.

“I just miss being in the stadiums — fan culture and the food. I also miss traveling around Korea to see the games. Since I left Korea as ambassador, I have made it to games in six of the nine ballparks, and we always make it a point to go out and have some fun in the cities before and after the games,” he said, adding that he usually finds fun regional restaurants and eats local food. “People still recognize me.”

Lippert shared one particular story: He and a friend traveled to Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul, to watch the Bears play the Kia Tigers in 2018. When they walked out of the KTX station, Lippert was instantly recognized by a cab driver, who instantly started yelling, “Yagujang!” the Korean word for “baseball stadium.”

Lippert’s KBO fandom also led to some indelible moments for the former ambassador in Washington.

While he’s a Bears fan, he makes sure to wear the jersey of a different KBO team, the Lotte Giants, when he attends games for the Washington Nationals in the U.S. capital. Lippert has the Giants’ throwback road jersey in powder blue with red letters, and it has resemblance to the old jersey for the Montreal Expos, a franchise that moved to Washington and became the Nationals of today.

Once, Lippert went to a Nationals game wearing that Lotte jersey. The game happened to feature a South Korean player from the opposing team, and there were many Korea and Korean-Americans in the stands. Those who either recognized Lippert’s jersey or Lippert the ex-ambassador — or both — swarmed him for selfies, prompting the stadium usher that had been sitting next to him to ask, “Who are you?”

A couple of days later, Lippert went to another Nationals game, again in his Lotte uniform and in the same area of the stadium, with the same usher now wearing an amused look. This time, Lippert was spotted by a familiar face — one of his former body guards in Seoul who had traveled to Washington for a State Department training course.

For Lippert, seeing that former body guard wasn’t the end of it; the body guard had a better ticket than his former boss.

Lippert’s ties with South Korea run deep. Sejun and Saehee — both of whom have also become KBO fans — were born here, and Lippert’s presence at KBO stadiums endeared him to the South Korean public and made him approachable in ways that his predecessors weren’t.

“The Lippert family and Korea are going to be intertwined,” he said. “In fact, in my farewell speech as ambassador, I made this point, by saying, ‘(The Korean people) touched us deeply. I know your future is bright. And we intend to return many times to witness it, partake in it and be inspired by it.’ We’re just living what I felt and continue to feel about Korea.”

Though travel restrictions are keeping Lippert from flying to South Korea to watch his Bears, he’s keeping close tabs on the club’s fortunes.

Asked about his thoughts on the Bears’ chances of defending their title, Lippert said the key is to address the loss of Josh Lindblom, a 20-game winner and reigning league MVP who has since signed with the Milwaukee Brewers.

“But, this highly talented core team is back for another ride. And this is a group that, we have seen time and time again, knows how to win,” Lippert added. “So, I like their chances. More broadly, just like last year, I think this is going to be another very exciting KBO season. I’m excited for the Bears but also the season!”

Lippert grew up a fan of the Cincinnati Reds. His father was a season ticket holder for the Reds, and Lippert was one of more than 47,000 fans at the old Riverfront Stadium on Sept. 11, 1985, when Pete Rose got his 4,192nd hit to pass Ty Cobb as the all-time leader in the majors.

So, if the Reds were playing in Game 7 of the World Series and the Bears were in Game 7 of the Korean Series at the same time, which game would Lippert watch?

His immediate reaction to the question was, “Good grief. Are you going to make me pick between Sejun and Saehee next?”

“Being an ambassador is all about keeping Washington and Seoul out of zero-sum choices for the alliance,” he said. “So I hope if my skill set is still intact. I’d find a way to watch both!!!”


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First deputy commander of S. Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command dies at age 97

KDVA is saddened by the passing of former General and Ambassador Lew, Byong-hion on May 21, 2020 at the age of 97. As the first deputy commander of the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command, a former Chairman of the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former ROK Ambassador to the United States, General Lew was a historic leader in the Republic of Korea and for the ROK-U.S. Alliance.
As we look back on his life of service, we are thankful for his contributions to the ROK-U.S. Alliance.
KDVA sends our deepest condolences to General Lew’s family and friends.
General (Ret.) Walter Sharp
President and Chairman, KDVA


SEOUL, May 21 (Yonhap) — Lew Byong-hion, the first deputy commander of the Combined Forces Command (CFC) of South Korea and the United States, died Thursday, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. He was 97.

Born in 1924, Lew was commissioned as an Army second lieutenant in 1948 and took various positions in the military.

During his service as the leader of the Fifth Corps, he successfully led the operation of detecting underground tunnels dug by North Korea, which led to the discovery of the 2nd Tunnel in the border town of Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, in 1975, according to the JCS.

He became the first CFC deputy commander in November 1978 and served as the country’s 16th JCS chairman between December 1979 and May 1981, according to the military.

“Gen. Lew … helped build the foundation to what CFC has become today. He also served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the ROK Ambassador to the United States, cementing the ROK-U.S. alliance as the linchpin of safety and security in Northeast Asia. General Lew will be truly missed,” CFC Commander Gen. Robert Abrams said.

CFC was established on Nov. 7, 1978, as the warfighting headquarters on a mission to deter outside aggression against South Korea.

For that role, the CFC has operational control over more than 600,000 active-duty military personnel of all services, of both countries.

“On behalf of Combined Forces Command, I offer our heartfelt condolences and sympathy to General Lew’s family and friends following his death today,” Abrams said.

This photo provided by the Joint Chiefs of Staff on May 21, 2020, shows Lew Byong-hion, the first deputy commander of the Combined Forces Command (CFC) of South Korea and the United States. He died earlier in the day at age 97. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

This photo provided by the Joint Chiefs of Staff on May 21, 2020, shows Lew Byong-hion, the first deputy commander of the Combined Forces Command (CFC) of South Korea and the United States. He died earlier in the day at age 97. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

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Unification minister refutes speculation over possible lifting of 2010 sanctions on N. Korea

Yonhap  |  By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, May 21 (Yonhap) — Just because sanctions imposed on North Korea following its deadly sinking of a South Korean naval ship in 2010 have mostly lost their effect does not mean that Seoul is considering the possibility of lifting them, Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said Thursday.

On Wednesday, Yoh Sang-key, the ministry’s spokesperson, told reporters that much of the sanctions have mostly lost their intended effect and pose no obstacle in expanding “room” in inter-Korean relations, as previous governments have made various “exceptions” in implementation.

He made the remarks as South Korea marked the 10th anniversary of the sweeping sanctions imposed on the North after the communist nation sank the South Korean warship Cheonan and killed 46 sailors, spawning speculation that Seoul might be considering their lifting.

“How could they be linked to each other,” Kim told reporters in response to a question on whether the government is considering the lifting of the sanctions, apparently referring to relevant speculation. He, however, did not elaborate further.

Earlier, a unification ministry official declined to comment when asked about the possible lifting of the sanctions, reiterating the government’s stance.

The sanctions, known as the May 24 Measures, virtually ban all inter-Korean exchanges and have been regarded as an extra hurdle in seeking cross-border cooperation. Many still see the sanctions as symbolic, as most of the restrictions were already included in multiple global sanctions led by the United States.

The controversy over South Korea’s standalone sanctions comes as the Moon Jae-in government has pushed to expand cross-border cooperation as part of efforts to advance inter-Korean ties amid a stalemate in denuclearization talks.

Earlier this month, Minister Kim said the government is mulling “practical” ways to bolster exchange and cooperation with the North in areas not subject to sanctions.

The North, however, has not responded to South Korea’s offers for any cross-border cooperation since its no-deal summit with the U.S. in February last year. Pyongyang has also complained about Seoul dragging its feet in seeking major cooperation for fear of violating U.S.-led global sanctions.

Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul speaks to reporters in a press meeting on May 7, 2020. (Yonhap)

Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul speaks to reporters in a press meeting on May 7, 2020. (Yonhap)

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KDVA’s Korea Chapter Supports Eighth Army’s COVID-19 Response

KDVA Korea Chapter President, ROK Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Lee, Seo Young, and ROK Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Jung visited Eighth Army at Camp Humphreys on April 20, 2020 to deliver food and beverages to support 8A’s COVID-19 response.  Eighth Army Deputy Commander, BG Hur; G-7, COL Lynch; Deputy G-7, LTC Thayer, and other 8A Soldiers met with the KDVA Team to receive hundreds of boxes of apples and oranges, ramyon and choco pies, and orange juice and sodas.

They appreciated KDVA’s support and passed 8A CG, LTG Bills’ appreciation for KDVA’s support of 8A’s operations of the USFK quarantine area in Humphreys.

KDVA appreciates any opportunity to support the great men and women of Eighth Army!

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‘New normal’: US troops fill South Korean restaurants after military lifts most virus restrictions


Soldiers assigned to U.S. Forces Korea dine at a restaurant outside Camp Humphreys, South Korea, but continue to maintain social distance on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. MATTHEW KEELER/STARS AND STRIPES

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PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — American troops and civilians packed South Korean restaurants and barbershops for the first time in about three months Wednesday after the U.S. military lifted most anti-coronavirus restrictions for bases everywhere but the Seoul area.

Soldiers also withdrew from the gates at Camp Humphreys, Camp Casey and bases in the southeastern city of Daegu as the Army ended the need for health questionnaires and temperature checks aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.

Life slowly began to return to what the military is calling a “new normal” as the daily count of confirmed cases in South Korea remains low, but “adults-only” establishments like bars and clubs remain off-limits due to continued concern over cluster infections.

U.S. Forces Korea, which commands some 28,500 service members on the divided peninsula, announced Monday it was lowering its health alert level from Health Protection Condition Charlie to Bravo beginning at 6 a.m. Wednesday for all bases except Yongsan Garrison and others in the surrounding area.

The move happened as South Korea has begun to move toward normalcy, even beginning to reopen schools on Wednesday.

Defense Department schools on the military bases are still conducting classes online only, although people can now use local day care facilities.

‘New normal’

“I think it’s great that we are slowly rolling Bravo out so we are just not allowing the bars and clubs, but we are allowed to sit down in restaurants and to start to enjoy Korea again and allow us to start traveling,” Army Capt. Gabe Romero, 29, a medical operations officer from Covina, Calif., said as he enjoyed lunch at a kebab restaurant in the Anjeung-ri area outside Camp Humphreys.

USFK issued a chart with detailed guidelines on Tuesday, explaining that people may resume traveling and going to local establishments such as restaurants, salons and museums in all designated areas but must avoid bars and clubs, which were at the center of an outbreak in the popular district of Itaewon in Seoul.

Sgt. Shawn Fowler, right, enjoys a meal with his troops at a restaurant outside Camp Humphreys, South Korea, on Wednesday, May 20, 2020.

The military also urged people to maintain social distancing and to wear masks when that’s not possible. Masks were still required for entry into on-base facilities.

“This is the ‘new normal’ — centered on 3 key tenets: protect yourself, protect your bubble, protect others,” USFK commander Gen. Robert Abrams said Tuesday in a tweet.

“We need to ease into this with an abundance of caution,” he said. “Protect the force = protect the mission.”

The military largely locked down its 58,000-strong community after being caught in the middle of the burgeoning pandemic in late February when a massive outbreak began in the southeastern city of Daegu and nearby areas with 500 or more cases reported each day.

The South has been lauded for an aggressive testing, tracing and social distancing campaign that appears to have brought the virus largely under control. Officials have expressed concern about recent “sporadic infections” in Itaewon and the Samsung Medical Center in Seoul but said strict social distancing measure did not need to be renewed.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 38 new cases on Wednesday for a total of 11,110, with 263 deaths.

“Because of how well things are going here in Korea, I’m glad they are taking the steps to just bring everything back to normal,” said Army Sgt. Shawn Fowler, 26, of Tucson, Ariz. “It’s been really constricting not being able to actually go out and basically live our lives.”

However, he noted it’s a small step since soldiers remain under a military-wide travel ban that has been extended by the Pentagon until at least June 30 as the virus continues to ravage other countries including the United States.

“The only thing that is really affecting me right now is the travel restriction,” Fowler said, adding that he has applied for an exception to policy so he can return to his wife and daughters in Washington state on June 18. “I want to go home and see my family.”

Back to business

Local businesses, which had lost most of their customers due to the restrictions, were ready to make up their losses.

Song Ji Sue, supervisor of Hwa Hwa, a popular Korean barbecue restaurant near Camp Humphreys, said business had dropped by about 80% even though the Americans were allowed to order takeout, so she welcomed the full house on Wednesday.

“We have gone through a rough patch. It has been a very difficult time of us,” she said. “But they’re coming off the installation and visiting our restaurant again, so we feel good.”

One community that wasn’t happy on Wednesday was on Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, which used to be the main U.S. military base but is in the process of closing.

About 2,000 people are still stationed on Yongsan and the nearby K-16 base, which both remain at HPCON-Charlie and off-limits for nonessential travel from other bases until further notice. Residents may, however, go to other areas and participate in approved activities there.

Carla Reinisch, who lives in the U.S. Embassy residential area on Yongsan, said it was the only major Army installation without an infection.

USFK has reported 28 confirmed cases, including four active-duty service members, but most have recovered.

“It’s very tiring hanging out here and not being able to go anywhere,” Reinisch said, noting it’s difficult even to go for a walk off base or to get takeout because only two access gates are open.

“We’re all patient; we’ve all been doing good; and I feel like we’re not rewarded for all we’ve done so far,” she said.

Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.
Twitter: @kimgamel
Twitter: @MattKeeler1231


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Panmunjom tours likely to resume once virus testing guarantees safety


SEOUL, May 19 (Yonhap) — South Korea is likely to resume its tour program to the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom if the border region is confirmed to be free of the African swine fever.

Tours to the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which takes visitors to the southern side of Panmunjom, were suspended in October last year, when the highly contagious African swine fever was reported near the border with North Korea.

“Dead bodies of wild pigs have been found at the DMZ, including Panmunjom, and the African swine fever virus has been detected in their bodies,” an official at the unification ministry said.

“Health authorities said they will inform us of the results of the testing by May. We plan to decide whether to resume the tours after the results come out.”

Earlier this month, Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said in a press briefing he expects the tours to resume in June but starting with a small group of people on a temporary basis.

The leadership of South Korea's ruling Democratic Party, led by Chairman Lee Hae-chan, waves toward North Korean students visiting the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom on the southern side of the village on May 31, 2019. Lee's group was on a security tour to the village on the occasion of the first anniversary of the April 27 joint declaration made between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. (pool photo) (Yonhap)

The leadership of South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party, led by Chairman Lee Hae-chan, waves toward North Korean students visiting the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom on the southern side of the village on May 31, 2019. Lee’s group was on a security tour to the village on the occasion of the first anniversary of the April 27 joint declaration made between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. (pool photo) (Yonhap)


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[Washington Talk] Late ‘Response’ to the Korean Army… What is the ‘preparation’ problem?

VOA Korea

The South Korean joint survey revealed that the response of the ROK military to the North Korean military’s GP shooting took more than 30 minutes, and the failed machine gun was not inspected for more than three months, controversy over the ‘preparation’. U.S. reconnaissance aircraft continue to fly over Korea, and they look at the ‘preparation’ of the US, including new coronavirus and postponed or reduced joint training for diplomatic relations with North Korea. Conducted by: Connie Kim / Talk: Vincent Brooks (Former Commander, USFK), Scott Snyder, Director, US Policy, US Foreign Affairs Association


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UNC checking aircraft warning markers to prevent accidental border crossings into N. Korea

Yonhap News

(Yonhap) — The U.S.-led United Nations Command has said it is inspecting warning markers set up near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to alert pilots they are approaching North Korea’s airspace so as to prevent accidental border crossings.

Currently, dozens of red-colored panels, named Aircraft Warning Panel Markers (AWPM), are set up near the southern limit line of the buffer zone to give such warnings to pilots. Those are about a minute’s flight from the Military Demarcation Line.

“This week, UNC personnel are flying the length of the DMZ’s southern boundary to verify that the markers are still intact and visible. If not, we’ll work to clear the foliage and replace the markers, since AWPMs help ensure that both civilian and military aircraft avoid flying into the DPRK by mistake,” the command said in its Facebook post Wednesday.

The DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The maintenance mission comes as a civilian aircraft accidentally crossed the border into North Korea in April last year after entering the airspace above the DMZ near the county of Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, according to the UNC.

An investigation into the incident found that the civilian pilot was unable to observe the marks along the southern boundary, and this week’s mission is a follow-up measure, it added.

“Mitigating incidents is one of many ways we support peace on the Korean Peninsula,” the command said. UNC administers the buffer zone and enforces the Armistice Agreement that halted the 1950-53 Korean War.

In January 2005, the UH-60 Blackhawk of the U.S. Forces Korea flew past the non-flight line near the DMZ during routine training, and narrowly avoided crossing the border into the North after South Korean troops fired a flare gun shot.

This image, captured from a United Nations Command Facebook video uploaded on May 13, 2020, shows an aircraft warning panel marker set up near the Demilitarized Zone. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

This image, captured from a United Nations Command Facebook video uploaded on May 13, 2020, shows an aircraft warning panel marker set up near the Demilitarized Zone. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


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N. Korea presumed to have replaced chief of military intelligence bureau

Yonhap News  |  By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, May 13 (Yonhap) — North Korea is believed to have replaced the chief of its primary intelligence agency accused of a string of secret operations against South Korea, including the 2010 sinking of a warship, according to Seoul’s latest who’s who in Pyongyang’s ruling elite.

Rim Kwang-il, an army general, replaced Jang Kil-song last December as head of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the North’s military intelligence agency, according to the who’s who book, titled “Information on key figures in North Korea.”

The agency is known for masterminding the 2010 torpedo attack on the South Korean naval corvette Cheonan that killed 46 sailors on board. Leading the agency at the time was Kim Yong-chol, a hawkish general who later served as the counterpart of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in nuclear negotiations.

Kim was replaced by Jang as he was named in the same year to lead the United Front Department (UFD), a key party organ dealing with inter-Korean affairs.

Born in 1965, Rim was promoted to lieutenant general in 2017. He was presumed to have been appointed as a member of the ruling party’s central military committee last December, the data showed.

The data did not provide other details on the reason for the replacement. Rim’s appointment has not been mentioned in Pyongyang’s state media reports yet.

This photos provided by the unification ministry show Rim Kwang-il (L) and Kwak Chang-sik. (Yonhap)

These photos provided by the unification ministry show Rim Kwang-il (L) and Kwak Chang-sik. (Yonhap)

North Korea is also presumed to have replaced Yun Jong-rin with Kwak Chang-sik in April last year as the Supreme Guard commander in charge of security for leader Kim Jong-un.

Kwak is a little-known figure to outside observers, but his name started to appear in state media reports last year. He was appointed as a member of the ruling party’s central committee last December, the data showed.

Jang Kum-chol was also presumed to have replaced Kim Yong-chol as head of the UFD in April last year, according to the data. The replacement has been widely speculated after Seoul’s spy agency said so early last year, but Jang’s appointment has not been officially confirmed yet by North Korea.

The data on North Korean personnel was based on the North’s state media reports and intelligence analysis. The unification ministry has published updated info books on the North every year.

A ministry official said about 80 percent of the political bureau, a powerful party organization, and the cabinet have been replaced by new members over the past year in what appears intended to consolidate leader Kim’s grip on power by appointing more close aides to key posts.


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S. Korea secured ‘decisive’ evidence to believe N. Korea’s DMZ gunfire accidental: sources

Yonhap News  |  By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, May 13 (Yonhap) — South Korea has secured “decisive” evidence that North Korea’s recent shooting at one of its guard posts across the border was not intentional, sources said Wednesday.

The assessment is in line with the United States’ determination that the incident was “accidental.”

On May 3, at least four bullets from the North hit the South’s guard post at the central part of the Demilitarized Zone in Cheorwon prompting the South Korean troops to fire back, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

“I cannot tell you details, but we’ve secured evidence from various intelligence sources, including circumstantial ones, that it was accidental,” a senior JCS officer told reporters, explaining the results of its probe into the case.

The official later described the evidence as “decisive.”

Other sources said the evidence, which includes signals intelligence (SIGINT), has been shared with the U.S. On the day of the incident, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview with ABC News that he believes the incident was “accidental.”

The JCS officer also pointed out that the North did not take any specific action despite the South’s shooting at its guard post.

“If they had recognized the situation seriously, they should have prepared for action, just as we had done at that time. But no such specific moves, like wearing iron helmets, have been detected,” he said. “Civilians near the scene were also spotted doing their farm work just as usual in the day.”

The shooting took place at a time when North Korean soldiers usually rotate shifts and check their firearms or equipment, raising chances of accidental firings, another JCS officer said.

It was foggy, and the North’s guard post is topographically lower than the South Korean one, which are unfavorable conditions for the North to be provocative, he added.

North Korea remains mum, though South Korea sent a notice lodging a strong complaint and calling for an immediate explanation after the incident, according to the defense ministry.

“We communicate with North Korea twice a day via military hotlines, and we raised the issue through this channel before. We are waiting for their responses,” a ministry official said.

The U.S.-led United Nations Command, which administers the buffer zone and enforces the Armistice Agreement, said it dispatched a multinational special investigation team to the scene to determine if any violation of the pact that halted the 1950-53 Korean War took place during the gunfire.

“UNC has been looking into the case. After the results come, we can make a final conclusion,” the JCS officer noted.

This EPA photo shows a North Koren frontier post at the inter-Korean border near the city of Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on May 3, 2020. (Yonhap)

This EPA photo shows a North Koren frontier post at the inter-Korean border near the city of Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on May 3, 2020. (Yonhap)

Asked how North Korea hit the South’s guard post though they were firing accidentally, another JCS officer said that both sides of the border always point the muzzle of their weapons toward each other.

Officials said the South’s response was slow due to a gun malfunctioning.

The South fired back 32 minutes after hearing the North’s gunshots and 22 minutes after soldiers on duty found bullet marks on the wall of the post, the JCS officer said.

The soldiers first heard the sound and witnessed a flash at 7:41 a.m.

“Our troops first attempted to fire a KR-6 gun with a remote control system. As it malfunctioned, however, they turned to the K-3 light machine gun,” the senior officer said.

The South Korean side fired about 15 rounds with the K-3 machine gun at the North Korean guard post.

Upon learning the North employed a 14.5-millimeter anti-aircraft machine gun, however, the South fired another 15 rounds with a 12.7-mm K-6 heavy machine gun “in accordance with the principle of proportional responses,” according to the officer.

“As the North Korean military aimed at our guard post, we also made the same, corresponding action. It was done by our response manual,” he noted.

It was the first exchange of gunfire between South and North Korea in years. Under the Comprehensive Military Agreement signed in September 2018, the two Koreas agreed to halt all hostile acts against each other, a move aimed at reducing tensions and building trust.

The DMZ, which is about 250 kilometers long and 4 km wide, is one of the world’s most heavily fortified borders and has often been a flashpoint between the rival Koreas, though South Korea has been pushing to turn the zone into a global peace zone.

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