A young, “low-ranking” North Korean soldier defected to South Korea by crossing the demilitarised zone (DMZ) under the cover of thick fog early Thursday Morning, South Korean officials said.
It is the second defection, which is to disown allegiance to one’s country, across the heavily-guarded border in less than two months. Another North Korean soldier was shot multiple times while dramatically escaping to the South on November 13.
No shots were fired during the latest defection, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
However, more than one hour later, around 9.30 a.m., South Korean soldiers fired 20 warning shots as North Korean soldiers appeared to search for the soldier, officials said.
The defector of November 13th, in his 20s was shot by the North Korean army multiple times as he ran across the demilitarised zone into South Korea. Dozens of parasitic intestinal worms was found in his abdominal cavity, some as long as 11 inches, suggesting severe malnutrition, as reported by his surgeons.
Se-Woong Koo, a political analyst and publisher of Korea Expose – a news magazine, said North Korea’s economic situation is prompting soldiers and citizens to risk their lives by leaving the country.
“There have been 15 cases in which North Koreans crossed the DMZ or through the East China Sea by ships in the last year or so,” Se-Woong said.
“South Koreans react to this with surprise and alarm. But then again, we have seen other cases before, including last year and the year before that,” he added.
Se-woong described the incident as “a very rare case” because North Korean troops stationed along the DMZ are known for their loyalty to Pyongyang.
“Last month was a dramatic moment because of the shots that were fired by North Korean soldiers at the defector, and because the South Korean soldiers had to cross into the zone to drag him to safety,” Se-Woong said.
The latest United Nations report claims that 2 in 5 people in North Korea are undernourished. About 18 million people of the 24 million population , approximately 75 per cent of the population, depend on the Public Distribution System (PDS) for rations,” the report said.
Many face a struggle to secure enough food while others risk losing their jobs due to sanctions, according to Jiro Ishimaru, a Japanese documentary maker who runs a network of citizen journalists inside North Korea.
“For one thing, there are too many soldiers to feed, and corruption is rife, so that by the time senior military officers have taken their share of food provisions to sell for profit on the private market, there is next to nothing left for ordinary soldiers,” Ishimaru said
Kang Ri Hyuk, another North Korean Soldier who defected to the South spoke to CNN in November about the harsh conditions endured by military servicemen in North Korea.
“There are countless soldiers in North Korea who cannot even walk because of malnourishment. Soldiers in my country are dying of hunger and diseases,” Ri Hyuk said.