A soldier from North Korea managed to make a rare successful escape across the heavily fortified border with South Korea, on the same day a US national was detained as he attempted to enter the North.
The North Korean guard stationed within the Joint Security Area fled across the border into the South early on Monday, sustaining gunshot wounds to his shoulder and elbow after being fired on by other North Korean guards.
The soldier was airlifted by a United Nations Command helicopter to a hospital for treatment, military officials told Yonhap, and his injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.
Cases of North Koreans successfully crossing the Demilitarised Zone into the South are rare because of the landmines, tripwires and machine guns that are trained across the border.
Defections within the JSA are even less common, because the North Korean troops assigned to the small area where the two sides’ militaries are face to face are hand-picked for their loyalty to the regime.
The injured soldier was found by South Korean troops on the South’s side of the frontier after several bursts of gunfire. He was unarmed and wearing the combat fatigues of a low-ranking soldier. He has not yet been named.
“Currently, there are no unusual signs in the North Korean military, but we are increasing our alertness against the possibility of North Korean provocations”, a South Korean military official said.
Five hours later, a US citizen, who has been identified as “A” by South Korean police, but is reported to be 58 years old and from Louisiana, attempted to cross into North Korea. He arrived in South Korea on Friday and was detained shortly before 10am local time after crossing the Civilian Control Line just south of the frontier.
A villager spotted the man in an area of the border district of Yeoncheon that is out of bounds to non-military personnel and informed local authorities of his presence, Yonhap news reported.
The man has told South Korean police that he crossed the Civilian Control Line as he intended to enter North Korea for “political purposes”.
Local police, the South Korean Army and officials of the National Intelligence Service are questioning the man to get a fuller picture of his motivations.
The man’s actions come less than five months after the death of Otto Warmbier, a US student who was detained on a visit to North Korea in January 2016 and sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labour for attempting to steal a propaganda poster from a hotel in Pyongyang.
Released in June after 17 months in the North, he died less than a week after arriving back in the US. An autopsy indicated he had suffered an acute neurological injury about a month after his conviction and had been in a coma ever since. A coroner was unable to identify the cause of the injury.
As a consequence, the US government on September 1 imposed a ban on American tourists entering North Korea.