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(LEAD) Military apologizes for mistakenly firing at civilian airliner

All Headlines 15:07 June 20, 2011

(ATTN: ADDS details, quote in paras 6-9)

SEOUL, June 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's military apologized to the nation Monday for last week's incident in which two Marines fired rifles at a civilian jetliner 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), told reporters.

The military won't reprimand the two Marines, he said, noting they acted in line with engagement rules. Instead, the military will strengthen training for soldiers at guard posts to better distinguish civilian planes.

"The Marines don't deserve punishment because they didn't do anything wrong," Lee said. "But we will map out ways to better educate soldiers of frontline units to prevent such incidents from happening again."

The two Marines guarding an island near the tense Yellow Sea border with the North fired their K-2 rifles at the Asiana Airlines plane flying in fog over the sea in a pre-dawn incident on Friday. The plane with 119 people on board was undamaged and no one was hurt, as the plane was flying out of range of the fire.

Lee said the two Marines fired a total of 99 rounds toward the Asiana plane 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).

It took about 20 minutes for the MCRC to notify the guard post that the aircraft was the Asiana Airbus A320 making its descent into Incheon International 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.

The incident illustrated high tensions on the Korean Peninsula, following North Korea's two deadly attacks on the South last year -- the sinking of the Cheonan warship and the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island near the Yellow Sea border.

The two attacks killed 50 South Koreans, including two civilians. As a result, the South's military has vowed to take a tougher response than in the past if the North attacks again.

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