Authorities in the South Korean capital called on residents to “evacuate” after the launch of a North Korean satellite that posed no threat on Wednesday. A snub for the South Korean security system.
A failure that irritates in South Korea. On Wednesday, authorities in Seoul ordered residents of the capital to “evacuate” after North Korea launched a spy satellite. Before backpedaling about twenty minutes later, explaining that the alert had been “issued by mistake”, since the machine was not targeting South Korea. Too late, the alert had already sown fear in the city. Since then, the authorities have come under constant criticism.
BFMTV.com returns to the chronology of a day which questions: while tensions are still very high between Seoul and Pyongyang, are the South Korean security services able to react effectively to threats from Kim Jong Un?
The failed launch of a North Korean spy satellite
It all started with the launch of a North Korean rocket early Wednesday. The Pyongyang regime claimed it fired a “military reconnaissance satellite” but the launch ended in failure.
“The new Cheollima-1 satellite carrier rocket crashed into the West Sea”, the Korean name for the Yellow Sea, state news agency KCNA said, explaining the failure by “a loss of thrust due to abnormal starting of the second stage engine, after separation from the first stage during normal flight”.
Shortly after the launch, the South Korean army published images of the debris of the satellite and its launcher which it announced that it had recovered from the Yellow Sea, about 270 km from the mainland coast of South Korea, and in particular from the town of Gunsan, home to a US military base. These images show a large cylinder-shaped metal structure with some pipes and wires at its end.
North Korea had already announced on Monday its intention to launch a “military reconnaissance satellite” by June 11 in order to “deal with the dangerous military actions of the United States and its vassals”. The Japanese neighbor believed that this announcement sought to disguise a project to launch a ballistic missile.
· An evacuation order sent to the telephones and siren
But before this information appeared, an evacuation order could not be clearer which was sent to all telephones in Seoul around 6:41 a.m., accompanied by a shrill siren.
“Citizens, prepare to evacuate and allow children and the elderly to evacuate first,” the message read.
The alert did not specify why this alert was being sent or where citizens were supposed to go. Seoul has long had a network of more than 3,200 underground shelters built over the past decades, but they have never been used in a real emergency.
In 2002, the government released polling results indicating that 74% of Seoul’s nearly 10 million residents did not know the location of the nearest shelter to them, NBC News reports.
“I took my two young children to an underground car park as I had been advised, I was in shock,” a 37-year-old father told AFP. his surname, Yoon.
South Korea’s largest internet portal, Naver (equivalent to Google in functionality) crashed due to excessive traffic generated by the alert, the company said.
An absence of imminent threat
About 20 minutes later, phones in Seoul received a second message: “We inform you that the alarm sent at 06:41 was issued incorrectly.” A similar message was also broadcast through loudspeakers in the streets.
According to New York Timesthe message, which was pre-recorded and ready to be sent in an emergency, was issued over fears that debris from the North Korean rocket would hit the capital.
The South Korean military told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency that the projectile never threatened the city and did not even pass over the area.
“It’s so stupid. It was a space launch over the sea. It’s like Japan sounding the alarm and asking everyone to go to shelters every time South Korea performs a space launch,” he commented. tweeted Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Non-Proliferation Project (EANP) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
The authorities under fire from critics
“Now, when a real alarm is triggered, no one will believe it,” said the father of the family mentioned earlier in this article under the name of Yoon, who is said to be “furious” at the mistake.
On social media, many South Koreans expressed their exasperation with the fiasco. “They didn’t tell us why we had to evacuate or where we had to go,” one Twitter user complained. “If a real war breaks out, I think I’ll end up getting killed.”
Another Seoul resident said he was panicked: “I almost fainted, because the alert text told us to evacuate without giving really necessary information.” “There was a voice announcement outside that I couldn’t even hear. My hands were shaking,” he says.
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon defended himself, saying his administration “deemed immediate action was necessary” after the launch. “It may have been an overreaction, but there is no compromise on security,” he told a press conference, while promising to review the alert system. of the city to prevent further confusion.
A missile alert had also been issued in the Japanese department of Okinawa (south), calling on the population to take shelter. It was also lifted by the government, 30 minutes later.
Doubts about Seoul’s defense capabilities
South Korea remains officially at war with North Korea, as the war between the two countries of 1950 and 1953 ended only in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
For Minseon Ku, a political science researcher at Ohio State University, Wednesday’s blunder is a symptom of a chronic security problem in the South: “This hitch is unfortunate because South Korea is technically at war right now, it highlights a potential breach in civil security that could pose a real risk,” she told AFP.
“It is to be hoped that this incident will serve to remind local and national authorities that strong and reliable civil security trumps all other considerations.”
For Ankit Panda, another Korea expert based in the United States, this error should lead to an investigation and a revision of South Korea’s operating procedures during the frequent missile tests by its northern neighbor. “False alerts can be particularly dangerous in times of crisis, but they also undermine public confidence in times of peace,” he told AFP.
According to specialists, North Korea has no satellites in operation, although it has sent five into space. Three launches failed. As for the other two devices, which have probably been put into orbit, no independent body has ever picked up their signals, suggesting a malfunction.
Putting a functioning satellite into orbit could bolster North Korea’s arsenal by giving it the means to gather military intelligence from anywhere in space.
Source: BFM TV