Unidentified person makes rare defection across border into North Korea
Seoul: South Korea’s military said on Sunday that an unidentified person crossed the heavily fortified border into North Korea.
South Korea had earlier spotted the person with surveillance equipment at the eastern portion of the border and sent troops to capture him or her on Saturday night. But the troops failed to find the person and the surveillance equipment detected the person crossing over the border, Joint Chiefs of Staff officers said.
South Korean army soldiers patrol along the demilitarised zone in Goseong, South Korea.Credit:AP
“We’ve confirmed that the person crossed the Military Demarcation Line border about 10.40pm and defected to the North,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
South Korea sent a message to North Korea on Sunday morning to ensure the safety of the person, but the North hasn’t responded, the officers said requesting anonymity citing department rules.
In September 2020, North Korea fatally shot a South Korean fisheries official found floating in its waters in line with what Seoul called strict anti-virus rules that involve shooting anyone illegally crossing the border. Earlier in 2020, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un placed a border city under total lockdown after a North Korean defector with COVID-19-like symptoms sneaked back home. The fate of that defector, who had lived in South Korea, is not known.
The North’s prolonged lockdowns and restrictions on inter-provincial movement have also pushed the number of North Korean defectors arriving in the South to an all-time low.
The border crossing, which is illegal in South Korea, came as North Korea carries out strict anti-coronavirus measures since shutting borders in early 2020, though it has not confirmed any infections.
The two Koreas are split along the world’s most heavily armed border, called the Demilitarised Zone. An estimated 2 million mines are peppered inside and near the 248-kilometre-long, 4-kilometre-wide DMZ, which is also guarded by barbed wire fences, tank traps and combat troops on both sides.
Defecting via the DMZ is subsequently rare. At the height of their Cold War rivalry, both Koreas sent agents and spies to each other’s territory through the DMZ, but no such incidents have been reported in recent years.
About 34,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the late 1990s to avoid poverty or political oppression, but a vast majority of them have come via China and south-east Asian countries. Some South Koreans have tried to defect to the impoverished, authoritarian North, but it is rare.
South Korea and a US-led UN force are technically still at war with North Korea since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
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