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North Korean soldier defects across DMZ

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the 4km wide buffer zone separating North and South Korea. (yeowatzup/Flickr)
August 05, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

A North Korean active-duty soldier crossed the military demarcation line (MDL) Wednesday night in the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ) into South Korea in an apparent defection.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs (JSC) of Staff Thursday said in a press briefing that the soldier was detected by thermal imaging at 11:38 p.m. near the Imjin River, which flows from the North to the South in the central and western part of the Korean peninsula.

At first, South Korean security forces were unable to identify what they had detected, but confirmed it was a person at 11:56 p.m. and troops stationed nearby took the soldier into custody.

“The person that we took into custody is an active-duty soldier, and he expressed his desire to defect to South Korea,” said JCS Chief Kim Joon-rak during the briefing.

“Currently, identification and other related procedures are underway, so we will provide detailed information separately, “ he said.

South Korea’s KBS News quoted a JSC official as saying “it was the first time since 2010 that a defector came by way of the Imjin.”

It was the second time a North Korean crossed the DMZ with the intention to defect in eight months. On December 1, 2018 a North Korean soldier crossed over the armed land border in the eastern part of the peninsula.

One year prior to that event, a North Korean soldier ran south through the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom, getting shot by other North Korean soldiers. Despite being wounded, he successfully made it to the South, where South Korean guards found him. He was later taken to the hospital for gunshot wounds to an elbow and shoulder.

While defections by soldiers are rare, more than 30,000 North Koreans have made their way to South Korea in recent decades, and women make up the overwhelming majority. According to statistics kept by the South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, in 2017 71% of all registered defectors living in the South were women.