A North Korean soldier defected to South Korea on Thursday through the heavily guarded demilitarized zone separating the two countries, leading to gunfire on both sides of the border, the South Korean military said.
The “low ranking” soldier was manning a guard post along the DMZ when he fled through thick fog, the South Korean military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
The escape follows a similar one last month, in which another North Korean soldier was shot by his colleagues as he successfully fled his DMZ posting. In that case, South Korean border guards who heard the gunshots found the soldier 55 yards from the border line that bisects Panmunjom, the so-called truce village in the Joint Security Area, and carried him to safety.
Officials said the soldier who fled Thursday was not fired upon. South Korean soldiers later fired 20 warning shots at North Korean border guards who were searching for the defector, which was followed 40 minutes later by gunfire in the North, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
It is extremely rare for people to flee across the demilitarized zone. The 2.5-mile-wide DMZ, considered the most heavily fortified border in the world, is guarded by minefields, sentry posts and tall fences topped with barbed wire, some electrified.
In a possible sign of worsening conditions in the North, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said that 15 North Koreans, including the four soldiers, had fled directly to South Korea this year, compared with five people, including one soldier, last year. Most defectors avoid such a perilous crossing to the South, instead fleeing through China.
[New York Times]