South Korea crosses fortified border in rare defections to the north

The South Korean military said on Sunday that an unidentified person had crossed the heavily fortified border with North Korea.

South Korea had previously seen the person with surveillance equipment at the eastern part 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 the border, said the Joint Chiefs of Staff officers.

South Korea sent a message to North Korea on Sunday morning to ensure the person’s safety, but North Korea has not responded, police said, requesting anonymity with reference to the department’s rules.

In September 2020, North Korea shot dead a South Korean fishery official who was found floating in its waters in line with what Seoul called strict antivirus rules that involve firing anyone who crosses the border illegally. Earlier in 2020, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un placed a border town under total shutdown after a North Korean defector with covid-19-like symptoms sneaked home. The fate of the defector, who had lived in South Korea, is not known.

On Saturday, North Korea announced that it had decided to prioritize strict virus restrictions at a high-profile ruling party meeting last week.

The two Koreans are divided along the world’s most armed border, called the demilitarized zone. An estimated 2 million mines are packed inside and near the 248-kilometer-long, 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) wide DMZ, which is also guarded by barbed wire fences, tank traps and combat troops on both sides.

Interruptions via DMZ are then rare. At the height of their rivalry during the Cold War, both Koreans sent agents and spies into each other’s territory through the DMZ, but no such incidents have been reported in recent years.

About 34,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea since the late 1990s to avoid poverty or political oppression, but a large majority of them have come via China and countries in Southeast Asia. Some South Koreans have tried to flee to the poor, authoritarian North, but this is rare.


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