For the first time in three years, a North Korean soldier has defected to the South after walking through the 2.5-mile-wide Demilitarized Zone that separates the two countries. South Korea's defense ministry says a teenager reached a South Korean guard post today in Hwacheon and was taken into custody, per CNN. The DMZ is among the world's most heavily militarized borders, guarded by tens of thousands of soldiers on either side, and strewn with land mines, electric fences, and barbed wire, reports the BBC. Most defectors leave North Korea via China before making their way to South Korea to avoid crossing the zone. AFP reports the defection "sparked a tense stand-off between North and South Korean border guards," but there was no exchange of fire.
"We've confirmed his will to defect after he reached our guard post," a ministry rep says. The Unification Ministry of South Korea says 535 North Koreans have defected to the South this year, but their number has fallen dramatically since Kim Jong Un came to power; the New York Times reports 1,397 defected last year, down from 2,706 in 2011. Though North Korea hasn't addressed the defection, it did announce today that it would release two South Korean citizens it said illegally entered North Korea on May 11, reports CNN. South Korea believes the pair, a male and a female, went missing while traveling near the North Korean border in China. (The last defector to cross the DMZ said he killed two superiors.)