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Crude drones aimed at South Korea point to 'menacing potential threats'

SEOUL -- South Korean experts say two small drones believed to have been flown across the border by the North amid rising military tensions were crude and decidedly low-tech — equipped with cameras available on the Internet for hundreds of dollars — but underscore a potential new threat that must be taken seriously.

North Korea has recently been touting its drone program, a relatively new addition to its arsenal. It has prominently displayed large drone-like aircraft in military parades. According to the North's state-run media, leader Kim Jong Un watched a drone attack drill on a simulated South Korean target last year.

If the South Korean claims that the drones were from the North are true, they would be the first solid, public evidence that North Korea is using its drones to infiltrate South Korean airspace, including the skies over the capital Seoul and its surroundings.

The captured drones were basic, at best.

One crashed in Paju, a city near the land border with North Korea, on March 24. The other crashed on Baengnyeong Island on Monday. South Korean defense officials say they are rudimentary, equipped with Japanese-made cameras capable of taking only still photos that cannot be transmitted in real time but must instead be retrieved.

The Paju drone was equipped with a Canon camera and the other one carried a Nikon camera. Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said the Canon camera can be bought for about 1 million won (about US$950) on the Internet.

Both drones were painted sky blue, probably cost only a few thousand dollars to build and were 140 centimeters and 180 centimeters long — giving them the appearance of the large model planes associated more with hobbyists than militaries.

Kim, in a briefing Thursday, said lettering on the battery of the drone found at Paju and other forensic evidence suggest it was of North Korean origin. He said it had enough fuel to return to North Korea. Defense officials say it took 193 photos of Seoul, Paju and other areas, but refused to disclose which specific sites.

The second drone took photos of two front-line islands — Socheong and Daecheong — near the disputed western sea boundary with North Korea.

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This file photo provided on Wednesday, April 2 by the South Korea Defense Ministry shows an unmanned drone that was found last week in Paju, a South Korean city near the land border with North Korea. (AP)

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