A North Korean soldier fled across the heavily fortified frontier Saturday, the military said, a rare escape that presents the first test of recent military tension-reduction measures by the two adversaries.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, reaffirmed his plans to hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as diplomatic efforts to persuade the communist state to give up its nuclear weapons have stalled.
South Korean troops guided the North Korean defector to safety after surveillance equipment detected him crossing an eastern section of the so-called Military Demarcation Line that bisects the peninsula, the military said in a text message.
The military said no unusual North Korean military activity was reported on Saturday.
The military said it will question the soldier about how he escaped across the border, a 2.5-mile wide, 155-mile long buffer zone that’s lined with barbed wire and filled with land mines.
The defection came just over a year after another North Korean soldier dashed across the border in the truce village of Panmunjom under a hail of gunfire from his former comrades.
More than 30,000 North Koreans have fled to the South since the 1950-53 war on the peninsula ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty. But most fled via China and other countries to avoid heavy border security.
Saturday’s escape occurred after both sides demolished front-line guard posts and swept for mines in a section of the Demilitarized Zone as part of an ambitious plan to disarm the area.
The Koreas reached the military agreement during the third summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in as part of a diplomatic offensive that began earlier this year, reversing months of rising tensions that had threatened to erupt in a nuclear war.
North Korea agreed to work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” during summit with the South and an unprecedented meeting between Kim and Trump in June.
But negotiations over details and conflicting demands have faltered. Trump has said he hopes to meet with Kim early next year in a bid to give the talks a boost.
The White House said he reaffirmed that plan during a meeting with Moon Friday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina.
“President Trump discussed his intention to have a second U.S.-DPRK summit,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, using the acronym for the North’s formal name the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
She added that Trump and Moon renewed their commitment “to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization” of the North and agreed on the need to maintain economic sanctions “to ensure the DPRK understands that denuclearization is the only path.”
Moon’s office said that Trump also gave the green light for Kim to visit Seoul, saying the two leaders agreed that would “provide additional momentum to their joint efforts to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
The North Korean leader said he would visit Seoul “in the near future,” during his third summit with Moon in September. The South Koreans have expressed hope the visit – which would be a first for a North Korean leader – could happen by the end of this year.
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