Another North Korean soldier has crossed the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South in a dramatic escape, the second such defection in just over a month, South Korea’s Defense Ministry says.
NPR’s Rob Schmitz, citing a Defense Ministry official, says the low-ranking North Korean soldier crossed over just after 8 a.m. local time on Thursday as a thick layer of fog hung over the area.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports:
“After the defection, the North’s border guards approached the military demarcation line (MDL) apparently in search of the defector, a [South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff] official told reporters.
In response, the South’s troops fired some 20 warning shots at around 9:30 a.m., he said.
Roughly 40 minutes later, there was the sound of several gunshots from the North but no bullets were found to have crossed the border, he added.”
Last month, we reported on another desperate escape of a North Korean soldier across the DMZ. In that instance, the soldier, later identified as Oh Chong Song, 24, commandeered a jeep across to aid his flight, as his fellow soldiers scrambled to chase him down.
The jeep crashed, but he managed to continue on foot before falling to the ground after being shot by North Korean soldiers. The defector was unable to move for about 40 minutes until South Korean soldiers reached him and dragged him to safety. He was taken by helicopter to a nearby hospital.
As of last week, Oh was continuing to receive treatment for gunshot wounds “and pre-existing conditions” that required two major surgeries, according to Reuters.
Tensions run high at the jointly controlled armistice line that divides North and South — the only place where troops from the two sides come face-to-face on a regular basis. It has been the scene of occasional defections from the North. The Associated Press reports that Thursday’s defection occurred in a different section of the demarcation than the one last month.
In a separate incident, Yonhap quotes South Korea’s Unification Ministry as saying two North Korean men in a small wooden boat defected on Wednesday.
“The Navy found it in waters about [60 miles] north of Dokdo during a patrol mission,” Yonhap quoted a ministry official as saying.
“A joint probe into the details of their identities is under way,” the official said, with the news agency adding that “the North Korean men expressed their intent to defect and agreed to abandon the aged and apparently damaged ship.”
Yonhap says that 15 North Korean people, including four soldiers, have defected this year, up from one soldier and four civilians in 2016.