By Lee Tae-hoon
The military apologized Monday for last week's incident in which two Marines fired at a commercial airplane carrying 119 passengers and crew by misidentifying it as a North Korean military aircraft.
"The military sincerely apologizes to our people for causing worries over the incident," Col. Lee Bung-woo, a spokesman at the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), said.
He said the two soldiers on Gyodong Island, near the tense inter-Korean border, fired 99 rounds as the Asiana Airlines airplane approached Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul.
Lee said the military will not seek punitive action against the two as they acted in line with engagement rules.
Instead, he said it will beef up training for soldiers at guard posts to better distinguish civilian planes.
"The Marines don't deserve punishment because they didn't do anything wrong," he said. "But we will map out ways to better educate soldiers of frontline units to prevent such incidents from happening again."
He confirmed that the two Marines fired 99 rounds toward the Asiana plane but the jet was not damaged and no passengers were injured, as it was flying out of the guns’ range.
Lee said the two fired for some four minutes, with tracer bullets, accounting for nearly half of the rounds.
“They fired immediately after reporting what they believed to be a North Korean military aircraft to their platoon leader and the platoon leader reported the incident to the Air Force's Master Control and Reporting Center (MCRC),” he said.
Lee also acknowledged the military’s slow response in correcting the mistake, saying it took about 20 minutes for the MCRC to notify the guard post that the aircraft was the Asiana Airbus A320 trying to land at the airport.
"While the MCRC tried to immediately give notification to the guard post using a telephone, the Marines at the post didn't come on the line because they were taking additional measures to track the plane at that time," Lee said.
Analysts say the incident illustrates growing tensions between two Koreas, following Pyongyang's two deadly attacks on South Korea last year that killed 50 people.
The South has vowed stern responses including swifter rules of engagement following the provocations last year.
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin instructed soldiers stationed near the border to act first and report later in the case of North Korean armed provocations following the two deadly attacks last year.