North Korean defector likely made rare border crossing: Seoul

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – A person who crossed the border from North Korea on New Year’s Day was likely a defector who had crossed the same heavily fortified border in the other direction to settle in South Korea in late 2020, a the South Korean military said on Monday. .

South Korean surveillance equipment detected an unidentified person entering North Korean territory from the eastern part of the border earlier on Saturday. The army said its security camera showed the person crawling over a barbed wire fence set up along the southern edge of the border.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement on Monday that it suspected a North Korean defector was the last to cross the border and was trying to confirm related information.

A ministry official said the statement referred to a former North Korean citizen who was captured on the southern part of the border, also on the eastern part, in November 2020. The man identified himself as a former gymnast and told investigators he had crawled. faulty barbed wire fences before they were found by South Korean troops, the official said, requesting anonymity citing department rules.

Ministry spokesman Boo Seung-Chan said earlier Monday that North Korea did not respond to a South Korean message sent the previous day to ensure the person’s safety.

In September 2020, North Korea killed a South Korean fisheries official found floating in its waters along a sea border. South Korea said North Korean troops were under orders to shoot anyone crossing the border illegally to protect against the coronavirus pandemic.

The South Korean ministry did not provide further details on why it believes the defector returned to the North.

About 34,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea for economic and political reasons since the late 1990s, and only about 30 have returned home in the past 10 years, government records show. south korean.

Observers say these returnees likely failed to adjust to new, highly competitive capitalist lives in South Korea, had large debts, or were blackmailed by North Korean agents who threatened to do hurt their loved ones if they did not return.

Defections across the border are rare. Contrary to its official name, the demilitarized zone, the 248 kilometer (155 mile) long and 4 kilometer (2.5 mile) wide border is guarded by landmines, tank booby traps and combat troops on both sides as well as barbed wire. fences. A large majority of North Korean defectors to South Korea have come here via China and Southeast Asian countries.

Saturday’s border crossing raised questions about South Korea’s security posture, as the border crossing’s entry into the DMZ was not immediately noticed by South Korean troops, despite their surveillance later turned out to have detected the person. The army admitted sending soldiers but failed to locate the person before he crossed the border.

In recent years, the South Korean military has faced similar criticism when North Koreans have passed through DMZ areas unnoticed, including one who knocked on the door of a southern army barracks. -Korean.

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