SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Ending a brief media frenzy, South Korea's military said it turned out to be a flock of birds that prompted it to launch fighter jets and alert journalists that it had detected an unidentified object flying near the border with North Korea on Monday.
The South's earlier announcement on the flying object left many media outlets scrambling, with the incident coming a day after U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met at a different portion of the heavily fortified Korean border.
South Korea's military has been under fire for a possible security gap after a boat carrying four North Koreans arrived undetected recently at a South Korean port. Observers say the South's military had likely released the inconclusive information about the flying object to media to avoid similar criticism of its surveillance posture.
The South's Joint Chiefs of Staff had said earlier Monday that its radar found "the traces of flight by an unidentified object" over the central portion of the Demilitarized Zone, a de facto border between the two Koreas.
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A North Korean guard post (top) and a South Korean guard post (centre R) stand opposite each other as seen from a South Korean observation post in Paju near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas on January 25, 2013. North Korea on January 25 threatened 'physical counter-measures' against rival South Korea the latest in a series of bellicose warnings sparked by a tightening of UN sanctions against Pyongyang. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A North Korean flag flutters over North Korea's village of Gijungdong as seen from an observatory point in Paju near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas on September 25, 2013. The 250-kilometre (155-mile) long Demilitarised Zone dividing the two neighbours is a depopulated no-man's land bristling with landmines and listening posts. AFP PHOTO / KIM DOO-HO (Photo credit should read KIM DOO-HO/AFP/Getty Images)
PAJU, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 04: A barbed wire fence at the military check point, near the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) separates South and North Korea on April 4, 2013 in Paju, South Korea. 400 South Koreans remain in the joint industrial complex fearing they can not get back there once return to South. In recent weeks North Korea have threatened to attack South Korea and U.S. military bases. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
North Korean guards stand in front of the PanmunGak building in the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas on September 25, 2013. Because the 1950-53 Korean War concluded with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, North and South Korea technically remain in a state of conflict. AFP PHOTO / KIM DOO-HO (Photo credit should read KIM DOO-HO/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean soldiers (foreground) look toward the North Korean side (back) as a North Korean soldier (centre R, back) approaches the UN truce village building that sits on the border of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the military border separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, on September 30, 2013, during the visit of US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Hagel toured the South-North Korean border on September 30 as he kicked off a trip to key regional allies in the battle to halt Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme. AFP PHOTO / POOL / JACQUELYN MARTIN (Photo credit should read JACQUELYN MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean soldiers patrol along a military fence near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas in the border city of Paju on April 26, 2013. South Korea called on April 26 for the withdrawal of all remaining staff from its joint industrial complex with North Korea, after Pyongyang shunned an offer for talks on the zone's future. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
North Korean soldiers (top) look at the South side as government delegations from the UN allied nations visit the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas on July 27, 2013 to mark the 60th anniversary of ceasefire agreement and UN forces' participation in the Korean War. South Korea on July 27 commemorated the 60th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the Korean War and honored the services and sacrifices of the UN forces that fought against North Korea. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
PAJU, SOUTH KOREA - APRIL 09: A barbed wire fence at a military check point near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separates South and North Korea on April 9, 2013 in Paju, South Korea. North Korea announced it will withdraw all workers from Kaesong joint industrial complex, five days after unilaterally banning South Korean workers re-entry to Kaesong. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Anti-North Korean leaflets showing pictures of Kim Jong-Un are seen before South Korean activists release balloons carrying the leaflets at a park near the inter-Korea border in Paju, north of Seoul, on October 10, 2014. South Korean activists launched across the border leaflets slamming North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, as Pyongyang celebrates a major anniversary with Kim conspicuously absent from the public eyes. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
North Korean Hwang Pyong-So (2L), director of the military's General Political Bureau, the top military post in North Korea, walks with officials including Ryong-Hae (R), a top secretary of the North's ruling Workers' Party of North Korea (2R) as they leave a hotel at Incheon on October 4, 2014, following a meeting with South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-Jae, on the sidelines of the ongoing Asian Games. A trio of top-level North Korean officials, including the man seen as leader Kim Jong-Un's number two, flew to South Korea for an extremely rare visit that will raise hopes of a breakthrough in cross-border ties. AFP PHOTO/ Bay ISMOYO (Photo credit should read BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images)
INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 04: South Korean unification minister Ryoo Kihl-Jae (R) shakes hands with Hwang Pyong-So (L) vice chairman of North Korea's National Defense Commission on October 4, 2014 in Incheon, South Korea. The North Korean delegation, including Hwang Pyong-So, who is thought to be the country's No.2 after Kim Jong-Un, made a surprise visit to South Korea to attend the closing ceremony of the Asian Games. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 04: South Korean unification minister Ryoo Kihl-Jae (R) shakes hands with Kim Yang-Gon (L), a secretary of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party on October 4, 2014 in Incheon, South Korea. The North Korean delegation, including Hwang Pyong-So, who is thought to be the country's No.2 after Kim Jong-Un, made a surprise visit to South Korea to attend the closing ceremony of the Asian Games. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 04: Hwang Pyong-So, vice chairman of North Korea's National Defense Commission, arrives at the Oakwood hotel on October 4, 2014 in Incheon, South Korea. The North Korean delegation, including Hwang Pyong-So, who is thought to be the country's No.2 after Kim Jong-Un, made a surprise visit to South Korea to attend the closing ceremony of the Asian Games. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
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South Korean media, citing unidentified military officials, quickly speculated that it was likely be a North Korean helicopter flying across the border into South Korea. But pilots of the several fighter jets deployed to the area later found that the object was a group of about 20 birds, a South Korean military official said, requesting anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to reporters on the issue.
South Korea sent North Korea a message about its fighter jets' launches to avoid unnecessary tensions, the official said.
The DMZ, which was created after fighting ended in the 1950-53 Korean War, is peppered with an estimated 2 million mines and guarded by combat troops, razor wire fences, anti-tank traps and guard posts on both sides. The two Koreas have occasionally traded exchanges of gunfire there, though animosities have eased since North Korea entered talks on its nuclear program.
Sunday's meeting between Trump and Kim, their third, took place at the border village of Panmunjom, located inside the DMZ. Trump stepped across Panmunjom's military demarcation line into North Korea with Kim, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in North Korea. He and Kim then turned back to Panmunjom's southern part before sitting down for a meeting.
Earlier Monday, South Korea's government said it hoped the diplomatic momentum created by the latest Trump-Kim meeting would help revive inter-Korean dialogue and engagement that stopped amid an impasse in nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.
"Since it's expected that the nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang would bounce back, the government will ... strengthen its efforts to create a virtuous cycle between inter-Korean relations, denuclearization and North Korea-U.S. relations," Lee Sang-min, spokesman for South Korea's Unification Ministry, told reporters.
North Korea's state media described Kim's meeting with Trump as "an amazing event" and that both leaders expressed great satisfaction over the result of their talks
The latest Trump-Kim meeting may have created momentum for further diplomacy, including working-level talks aimed at hammering out the terms of a mutually acceptable deal. But experts say it remains unclear whether the negotiations would successfully address the fundamental differences between Washington and Pyongyang that were exposed in a previous summit in Hanoi in February.
North Korea significantly reduced diplomatic activity and exchanges with the South following that summit. North Korea conducted tests of short-range missiles that could potentially threaten the South and demanded that Seoul break away from Washington and resume inter-Korean economic projects held back by U.S.-led sanctions against the North.
Last month, South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo issued a public apology amid criticism that the country's military failed to detect a North Korean fishing boat that crossed deep into South Korean waters, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of the maritime sea border, before reaching a port in Samcheok uninterrupted. South Korea sent two of the four North Korean fishermen aboard the boat back to the North, while the other two stayed in the South after expressing their desire to defect.
Some experts say the incident occurred because South Korea's security posture has been weakened under the current liberal government of President Moon Jae-in, which seeks greater rapprochement with North Korea. But others note similar incidents, such as North Korean soldiers fleeing undetected to South Korea via the DMZ, had occasionally happened when South Korea was ruled by conservatives before Moon's inauguration in 2017.