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Unidentified drone crashed on South Korean border island: military

SEOUL (Reuters) - An unmanned drone crashed on a South Korean island near a disputed maritime border with North Korea, a South Korean defense ministry official said on Tuesday, triggering an investigation into whether the aircraft was from the North.

The drone fell on Baengnyeong island at about 4 p.m. on Monday, when North Korea fired hundreds of artillery rounds in seas close to a disputed maritime line. That triggered a similar show of strength from South Korea in response.

The South Korean military was trying to verify where the drone had come from and what its purpose might have been, and was also looking into any possible link to North Korea's espionage operations, the military official told Reuters.

The official, who asked not to be identified, did not give any further details.

North Korea fired more than 100 artillery rounds into South Korean waters as part of a drill on Monday, prompting the South to fire back. The exercise appeared to be more saber-rattling from Pyongyang rather than the start of a military standoff.

Yonhap News Agency, quoting an unidentified South Korean government official, reported that the drone was 2-3 meters (7-10 feet) long and comprised a Japanese engine and Chinese parts, as well as a small camera.

Yonhap also said the drone was similar to another found in a border city late last month.

North Korea released TV footage last year of practice drones that had been modified to crash into pre-determined targets but it is not believed to operate drones capable of air strikes or long-range surveillance flights.

Small, commercially available remote-controlled aircraft can be modified to carry video cameras and other surveillance equipment.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Additional reporting by James Pearson; Editing by David Chance and Paul Tait)

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