A North Korean soldier has braved the most heavily fortified border in the world to defect to South Korea, The Telegraph reports.The man, who is being questioned by South Korean authorities, arrived on the southern side of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divides the two nations early on Monday morning.“He crossed the border in Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, on foot and expressed his desire to defect,” a spokesman for the ministry of national defence in Seoul told Yonhap news agency.
Nearly 1,400 North Koreans defected to the South in 2014, bringing the total number of people who have fled the impoverished North to around 50,000.• Satellite images capture North Korea executions ‘carried out with anti-aircraft guns’But the majority of defectors choose to cross the frontier into China before making their way to South Korea, and only a fraction of that number attempt to cross the 160-mile land border directly to the South because it is so well guarded.
As well as guard posts to deter defectors, part of the border is protected by a wall as much as 26 feet high, while elsewhere there are barbed wire entanglements and extensive minefields. The last time a North Korean crossed the DMZ to defect was in October 2012, when an army private who claimed to have killed two of his superiors knocked on the door of a South Korean army barracks to request asylum.
The latest defector has not been named and his reasons for fleeing the North are not clear, but he may have been encouraged to act by a clear tightening of security on the North Korean side of the frontier. Intelligence in the South has reported a significant increase in patrols by North Korean troops in recent months. In October, a group of North Korean soldiers approached the border, prompting gunfire from South Korean guards. The North Korean unit returned fire before retreating. There were no reports of casualties in either side.
South Korea has also reported that monitoring of the North’s troops revealed that they are sowing thousands of anti-personnel mines in an effort to dissuade would-be defectors. Similar measures are being implemented on North Korea’s border with China, with residents of some 10,000 houses close to the frontiers forcibly relocated and their homes destroyed.