South Korea Detains North Korean Who Crossed Demilitarized Zone

By Choe Sang-Hun

The man breached the Koreas’ heavily armed land border, triggering an extensive manhunt in the South, officials said.

South Korean soldiers at the Demilitarized Zone last year.
South Korean soldiers at the Demilitarized Zone last year.Credit...Ahn Young-Joon/Associated Press
Choe Sang-Hun

SEOUL, South Korea — The South Korean military on Wednesday detained a man from North Korea ​who crossed the countries’ heavily armed land border and triggered an extensive manhunt, officials said.

Military units had been on heightened alert since late Tuesday when signs were discovered ​​that barbed-wire fences along the eastern border had been breached​ by a possible defector from the North.

The military later said that its soldiers had detained a North Korean man​ without incident on Wednesday morning​.

Officials were investigating why the man crossed the 2.5-mile-wide Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, separating the two Koreas and fortified by wire fences, minefields and armed sentries on both sides. There was no unusual military movement in North Korea around the time the man was believed to have ​crossed, officials said.

More than 33,000 people from North Korea have defected to South Korea since a devastating famine struck the North in the 1990s. But most have done so through China, which borders the North, eventually making their way to a South Korean embassy in another country. ​Defections across the DMZ are relatively rare.

In November 2017, a North Korean soldier dashed through a hail of bullets fired by his fellow troops to enter the South through Panmunjom, the so-called truce village that straddles the border. In 2018, South Korean soldiers guided a North Korean soldier to safety after they found him walking across the eastern sector of the DMZ.

When a defector from the North crosse​s the land border undetected, it raises questions about national security in South Korea. The​ military apologized in 2012 after a defecting North Korean soldier not only scaled three barbed-wire fences along the ​border without being detected, but also had to knock on barracks doors to get attention once he reached the South.