N. Korea sol­dier de­fects across land bor­der

The China Post - - GUIDE POST -

A young North Korean sol­dier walked into South Korea Mon­day in a rare de­fec­tion through one of the world’s most for­ti­fied fron­tiers, say­ing he de­serted his camp be­cause of habitual beat­ing, mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said.

The 19-year-old sol­dier sur­ren­dered him­self to South Korean bor­der guards around 8:00 a.m. (2300 GMT) af­ter cross­ing the fron­tier in Hwacheon, north­east of Seoul, the South’s de­fense min­istry said.

“We’ve con­firmed his will to de­fect af­ter he reached our guard post,” a min­istry spokesman told AFP.

The North Korean sol­dier told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that he had de­cided to de­fect “be­cause of habitual beat­ing at his camp while har­bor­ing com­plaints about the re­al­ity of his home­land,” the spokesman added.

The de­fec­tion sparked a tense stand­off be­tween North and South Korean bor­der guards across the four-kilo­me­ter(2.5-mile-) wide and 248-kilo­me­ter-long de­mil­i­ta­rized zone (DMZ), but there was no con­flict, the Yon­hap news agency re­ported. The man iden­ti­fied him­self as a pri­vate, the low­est rank among the North’s en­lis­tees, it said.

Hun­dreds of North Kore­ans flee their iso­lated home­land each year but it is rare for de­fec­tors to cross the land bor­der, marked by barbed wire and guarded by tens of thou­sands of troops on both sides.

De­spite its name, the DMZ sep­a­rat­ing the two Koreas, which re­main tech­ni­cally at war, is one of the world’s most heav­ily mil­i­ta­rized fron­tiers, bristling with watch­tow­ers and land­mines.

Most North Kore­ans who flee re­pres­sion and poverty at home cross the por­ous fron­tier with China first be­fore trav­el­ing through a Southeast Asian na­tion and even­tu­ally ar­riv­ing in South Korea.

In 2012, a North Korean sol­dier walked unchecked through rows of elec­tri­fied fenc­ing and sur­veil­lance cam­eras, prompt­ing Seoul to sack three field com­man­ders for a se­cu­rity lapse.

In Au­gust last year, two North Kore­ans swam across the Yel­low Sea bor­der to a South Korean front­line is­land.

So far about 28,000 North Kore­ans have re­set­tled in the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, mostly af­ter the great famine in the 1990s.

But the num­ber of es­capees has de­creased sharply since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un took power fol­low­ing the death of his fa­ther in late 2011.

Un­der Kim, the iso­lated state has tight­ened bor­der se­cu­rity, while China has launched a crack­down on North Korean es­capees on its side of the bor­der.

China — the North’s sole ma­jor ally — typ­i­cally con­sid­ers them il­le­gal eco­nomic mi­grants and repa­tri­ates them de­spite crit­i­cisms from hu­man rights groups. Many face se­vere pun­ish­ment in­clud­ing, rights mon­i­tors say, tor­ture and a term in a pri­son camp once they are sent back to the North.

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