South Korea's defense ministry denied a news report Wednesday that an Army chopper failed to take off from a border unit to transport a fatally shot soldier last week due to an inter-Korean military agreement.
The report cited an opposition lawmaker's claim that the chopper failed to promptly depart due to approval and notification procedures stipulated in the agreement, which slow the mobilization of military aircraft near the inter-Korean border.
"We make it clear that the media report that the helicopter failed to be operated due to the military agreement is not true," the ministry said in a text message sent to reporters.
"Regarding its operation for transporting a patient, we can first take measures (to transport the patient) while just sending a notification message to the North," it added.
On Friday, the 21-year-old private first class was found dead with a gunshot wound to his head in a bathroom of a guard post near the border with the North.
The military made an emergency request to use a chopper to transport him to a hospital but canceled it as he was pronounced dead before being moved to the helipad, officials said.
To prevent accidental aircraft clashes, the Koreas have agreed to set up a no-fly zone along the border. But they set exceptions for emergencies, such as when aircraft need to be used to extinguish wildfires or transport patients.
Critics argue that the agreement could restrict border surveillance operations and troops' training, and that Pyongyang has yet to make significant progress in dismantling its nuclear and missile programs. (Yonhap)