North Korean Crosses DMZ, Asks to Defect: Report

Man in plainclothes began crossing 2.5-mile-wide zone on Tuesday
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 4, 2020 11:25 AM CST
North Korean Crosses DMZ, Asks to Defect: Report
In this June 14, 2019, file photo, South Korean army soldiers patrol while hikers visit the DMZ Peace Trail in the Demilitarized Zone in Goseong, South Korea.   (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

South Korea has detained a North Korean man who showed up on its side of the heavily fortified border separating the Korean Peninsula on Wednesday. The suspected defector in plainclothes was first observed crossing barbed wire fences in the eastern section of the 2.5-mile-wide, 155-mile-long Demilitarized Zone around 7:30pm Tuesday, reports the Guardian. Taken into custody around 9:50am on Wednesday, he expressed a desire to defect but officials were seeking more information, per Yonhap News. "An investigation is planned to find out details about the man, including how he had come down and whether he wished to defect," South Korea's joint chiefs of staff said in a statement. The Guardian notes "very few of the 31,000 North Koreans who have defected to the South in the past two decades have done so via the DMZ," which is littered with mines.

There has been no statement from the North. Officials in the South said they'd seen no abnormal activity from the North's military, which fired on a North Korean soldier attempting to reach the South Korean border village of Panmunjom in 2017, per the New York Times. South Korea had only just resumed tours to Panmunjom on Wednesday after a year hiatus triggered by an outbreak of African swine fever in the North. There was no mention of the suspected defector at a ceremony to mark the event. Instead, the South's unification minister, Lee In-young, advocated for free travel for all Koreans within the DMZ and called on the North to reestablish "round-the-clock communication channels" as "a basis for restoring inter-Korean relations," per the Guardian. (North Korean soldiers killed a South Korean government official who may have been trying to defect in September.)

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