Toy balloons spark fears of N.Korean infiltration
Fri, Jun 18, 2010

SEOUL - Toy balloons released by kindergarten children sparked a security alert in South Korea amid growing military tensions with North Korea, the defence ministry said Friday.

Troops and police mobilised a special task force early Thursday after a resident of Ansan, 35 kilometres southwest of Seoul, reported that 40 to 50 flying objects resembling parachutes fell on a mountain the previous night.

They turned out to be balloons from a nearby kindergarten, a ministry spokesman told AFP.

An explosion on June 7 on Yeonpyeong Island, near the sea border with North Korea, along with the discovery of a diving suit on the island's shoreline, also sparked an alert.

A joint military and police investigation found that the diving suit was abandoned by a fisherman and the explosion was not suspicious.

State inspectors strongly criticised military chiefs for their inadequate response to the sinking of a warship near the disputed sea border on March 26, with the loss of 46 lives.

The inspectors recommended that 13 generals, 10 lower-level officers and two civilian defence ministry officials be punished. The country's top military officer Lee Sang-Eui offered his resignation.

South Korea announced reprisals against North Korea after a separate multinational investigation concluded that a submarine from the North had torpedoed the warship.

The North, which denies involvement, has threatened military action if the United Nations Security Council accepts Seoul's request to censure Pyongyang.

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