Seoul, South Korea (Associated Press)-A person who crossed the border into North Korea on New Year’s Day was probably a defector. He slipped from the same heavily guarded border to another direction at the end of 2020 and settled in South Korea. Fang said Monday.
Earlier Saturday, South Korean surveillance equipment spotted an unidentified person crossing the eastern border into North Korean territory. The military stated that its security cameras showed the person crawling over a barbed wire fence set on the southern edge of the border.
On Monday, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement that it suspects that a North Korean defector is the latest border crossing and is working to confirm relevant information.
An Interior Ministry official stated that the statement refers to a former North Korean citizen who was arrested in November 2020 in the southern part of the border (also in the eastern part). The man claimed to be a former gymnast and told investigators that he crawled past the unnamed official, citing departmental regulations that barbed wire could defect before being discovered by the South Korean army.
South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Boo Seung-Chan said earlier on Monday that North Korea had not responded to a message sent by South Korea the day before to ensure the person’s safety.
In September 2020, North Korea killed a South Korean fishery official who was found floating on the coastal border of its waters. South Korea said that North Korean troops were ordered to shoot anyone who crossed the border illegally to prevent the coronavirus pandemic.
The South Korean Ministry did not provide more details, such as why it believes the defectors returned to North Korea.
According to South Korean government records, since the late 1990s, about 34,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea for economic and political reasons, while only about 30 have returned to their homes in the past 10 years.
Observers say that these returnees may not be able to adapt to South Korea’s new competitive capitalist life, be burdened with huge debts, or be blackmailed by North Korean agents, threatening to harm their loved ones if they do not return.
Defections across the border are rare. Unlike its official name, the demilitarized zone, this 248-kilometer (155-mile) long and 4 kilometer (2.5-mile) wide border is guarded by mines, tank traps, and combat troops, and barbed wire fencing on both sides. The vast majority of North Korean defectors in South Korea came here through China and Southeast Asian countries.
Saturday’s border crossing raised questions about South Korea’s security posture because the South Korean army did not immediately notice the crossover entering the demilitarized zone, although it was later discovered that their surveillance equipment had spotted the person. The military admitted that it had sent soldiers, but could not find the person before he crossed the border.
In recent years, when North Koreans wandered through the demilitarized zone without paying attention to defecting, the South Korean military has faced similar criticism, including those who knocked on the gates of South Korean military camps.