By Alex Jensen
SEOUL (AA) - South Korea has claimed it was forced Tuesday to resume its joint military operation with the United Nations Command (UNC) to prevent Chinese fishermen from illegally draining local marine stocks.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said that more vessels trespassing in South Korean waters were chased into those controlled by its northern neighbor.
The operation began last Friday as the South reported that boats from China had been sighted fishing illegally on more than 500 occasions during the first five months of the year – and despite official Chinese efforts to educate fishermen following the stabbing death of a South Korean coast guard officer during a crackdown on an intruding vessel in 2011.
To complicate matters, the South Korean-UNC operation is being conducted in neutral waters at the border with North Korea, where the Han River spills out into the sea.
Under the terms of the armistice agreement that brought the Korean War to a close in 1953, only four patrol boats are allowed to be deployed in the area.
It appeared Monday afternoon as though the operation was succeeding, with no evidence of any intruders – even those that had escaped to the relative safety of North Korean waters over the weekend.
But that situation changed overnight, as multiple vessels reportedly returned.
“Several Chinese fishing boats entered the Han River estuary area during the night and (the military) restarted its operation this morning to drive them away,” a JCS official was quoted as saying by local news agency Yonhap.
Again, the vessels in question withdrew to North Korean territory – outside the reach of South Korea and the UNC, who may only use force after first issuing a warning.
Seoul’s defense ministry speculated this week that the North may be allowing Chinese boats to sail in its waters in return for money.