South Koreans cross fortified border in rare defections to the north

Ties seeking peace and reunification of the Korean Peninsula decorate a military fence at Imjingak Peace Park near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which divides the two Koreans in Paju on December 17, 2021, on the tenth anniversary of the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il .JUNG YEON-JE / AFP / Getty Images

A South Korean has crossed the heavily fortified border in a rare breakaway to North Korea, the South Korean military said Sunday.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said they were conducting a search operation after discovering the person around noon. 21:20 (1220 GMT) Saturday on the eastern side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreans.

“We have confirmed that the person crossed the border into the military boundary line around 10:40 PM (1340 GMT) and jumped off to the north,” JCS said.

JCS said it could not confirm if the person was alive, but sent a message to the north via a military hotline asking for protection.

The border crossing, which is illegal in South Korea, came as North Korea has implemented strict anti-coronavirus measures since the borders were closed in early 2020, although it has not confirmed any infections.

A public and political uproar erupted after North Korean troops shot down a South Korean fisheries official who disappeared at sea in September 2020, whom Pyongyang blamed and apologized for.

Two months earlier, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared a national emergency and cordoned off a border town after a North Korean defector who he said had COVID-19 symptoms illegally crossed the border to the north from south.

The Nordic region’s prolonged roadblocks and restrictions on inter-provincial movement have also pushed the number of North Korean defectors arriving in the south to a record low.

Cross-border relations deteriorated after the atomic negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington stalled since a failed summit in 2019.

South Korea and a US-led UN force are technically still at war with North Korea since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a ceasefire rather than a peace deal.

This content is displayed as provided to The Globe by the original wiring service. It has not been edited by Globe staff.

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