Man Who Crossed DMZ Into North Korea Believed to Be Gymnast

He is believed to have first defected from North to South last year
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 3, 2022 12:14 AM CST
Updated Jan 4, 2022 12:23 AM CST
South Korean Citizen Defects to North Korea
In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands over the military demarcation line at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone on June 30, 2019.   (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

Update: The person who crossed the DMZ to enter North Korea over the weekend is a male gymnast, Seoul says. He is believed to have defected from North to South Korea last year, and on Saturday made his way back, the BBC reports. Why he did so is not clear, nor is his current status. He was reportedly working as a cleaner while he was in South Korea. Our original story from Monday follows:

A rare defection has been reported in South Korea, where a citizen was apparently able to cross the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas this weekend and enter North Korea, which has implemented a shoot-on-sight policy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not clear whether the South Korean citizen is still alive, but Seoul officials asked Pyongyang for the person to be protected, the BBC reports. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reportedly implemented the shoot-on-sight policy after a North Korean defector who reportedly had COVID symptoms came back into the North from the South. The DMZ is one of the most heavily armed places around the globe, full of landmines, electric and barbed wire fences, sensors, and armed patrols.

At 6:40pm Saturday, the person climbed a barbed-wire fence at the southern end of the 2.5-mile-wide DMZ, and an alarm was triggered. But somehow, no one noticed what was happening until 9:20pm, when a member of South Korea's military saw the person in the DMZ; by 10:40pm, the person crossed the military demarcation line and was on North Korean soil. After that point, the South Korean military saw the surveillance footage of the fence crossing from earlier in the night. The New York Times notes the person could be a North Korean spy or a defector who previously crossed from North to South and is now going back. No South Korean soldiers are missing. North Korea has not commented on the incident. (More North Korea stories.)

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