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International relations

South Korea condemns Japan for flying patrol plane near navy ship

SEOUL (Kyodo) -- The South Korean military condemned Japan for a "clear provocation" on Wednesday, claiming Japanese patrol planes have flown near South Korean navy ships multiple times in recent days, including earlier Wednesday.

Seo Wook, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff's operational headquarters, said it was forced to respond after a Japanese patrol aircraft flew about 60 to 70 meters above a South Korean navy ship in the East China Sea at around 2 p.m. Wednesday, after similar low-altitude flights by Japanese patrol aircraft on Friday and Tuesday.

"We have clearly requested the Japanese government to stop this from happening again, but seeing the plane fly low again today, we cannot but take this as a clear provocation against a vessel of a friendly country," the official said at a briefing.

South Korea, therefore, "strongly condemns" such moves, Seo added. "If this is repeated, we will definitely take a strong action in line with our military's code of conduct."

The South Korean Defense Ministry later summoned a defense attache in Seoul over the matter.

A South Korean Defense Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said that when the aircraft approached the navy ship on Wednesday, the plane was alerted several times and asked to change course.

The alleged flight on Wednesday in the vicinity of Socotra Rock, a submerged reef claimed by South Korea, comes amid a dispute between the two countries over whether a South Korean navy destroyer locked fire-control radar on a Japanese patrol aircraft in the Sea of Japan last month.

South Korea has disputed Japan's claim that it did, instead calling for an apology from Tokyo on the grounds that the plane flew menacingly close to the navy ship in the Dec. 20 incident.

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