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North Korean Soldier Defects through the Demilitarized Zone

SubverseAug 1, 2019, 3:48:20 PM

By Sean Jackson 

On July 31st at approximately 11:38 p.m., a South Korean soldier using thermal imaging equipment spotted a man moving south near the Imjin River near the heavily fortified demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

The soldier noticed “an unidentified object floating in the river via thermal observation devices, which was later confirmed as a person.” Defense officials from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff stated that the man was detained and brought to Seoul the next day for questioning.

An official with the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke with Yonhap news agency, describing the man was a North Korean defector, stating, “The man is an active duty soldier, and he has expressed his desire to defect to the South. Related procedures are underway.”

This is not the first time that a North Korean soldier has defected from the isolated country. In November 2017, a North Korean soldier crawled through thick fog at the South Joint Security Area, where North and South Korean military stand guard face-to-face. The man was shot at least five times by his fellow soldiers during his attempt to escape the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

While military defections do not happen nearly as much as they did ten years ago, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry a total of approximately 1,100 North Korean defectors arrived in South Korea last year alone. In recent years, it is relatively rare for North Koreans to attempt to traverse the heavily guarded demilitarized zone.

The 38th parallel is a perilous strip of no-man’s land, with a variety of deadly obstacles such as land mines, barbed wire, and military guard posts. Instead of heading through the demilitarized zone, many North Koreans opt to cross over the northern border into China, making their claims for asylum with South Korea from there.

Pyongyang has often accused South Korea of enticing their civilians to defect, and even in some cases kidnapping them. Since the end of the Korean War an estimated 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea.

This incident follows South Korea returning three North Korean civilians this past Monday, who had illegally crossed over the maritime border in a fishing vessel. South Korean officials stated that they thought the three wanted to defect, but the men instead chose to return to North Korea.

Tensions between the North and the South are rising amid new North Korean missile tests and warnings from Pyongyang over South Korea conducting joint military exercises with allied nations, such as the United States.