Suspected North Korean soldier defects

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Suspected North Korean soldier defects

A suspected North Korean soldier was detected by South Korea’s military crossing the inter-Korean border on Wednesday night, later telling local military authorities he wishes to defect.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) announced Thursday that the soldier has been taken into custody after crossing the middle section of the military demarcation line (MDL) separating the two Koreas near the Imjin River. The JCS said the soldier appeared to have been on active duty in North Korea’s military at the time of his escape, without explaining his rank, affiliation or whether he was an officer.

According to the JCS, the South Korean military detected “an unidentified hot spot” with its thermal observation device at around 11:38 p.m. on Wednesday as it moved southward on South Korea’s part of the MDL. At 11:56 p.m., the South’s military confirmed that it was a human being and safely took him into custody, the JCS continued.

South Korean military officials are currently questioning his motives.

The last time that a North Korean soldier defected to the South by crossing the MDL was on Dec. 1, 2018, when a low-rank soldier from the North’s Army traveled across the eastern side of the MDL.

Meanwhile, police officers from Paju, Gyeonggi, announced Thursday that the South Korean military detected a dead body in the Imjin River at 6:26 p.m. on Wednesday that appeared to be a North Korean civilian man in his 20s or 30s. Police said the corpse was “severely decomposed” when it was pulled out of the river and were not treating the death as suspicious. Police believe the man drowned at least two weeks ago.

According to Paju police, the body was found near a bridge on the Imjin River by a South Korean soldier who was monitoring the area through a surveillance device. The body was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and a pair of pants that appeared to have military camouflage patterns. The buckle of his belt featured “a large star.”

Local military officials and police have tentatively concluded he was from North Korea because there was no match for his fingerprints in South Korea, the patterns of his pants weren’t used in South Korea’s military and the fabric of his underwear was “different” from South Korea’s. Paju police suspect he drowned in North Korea but his body was carried downstream to the South due to flood waters.

Under South Korean law, the military or National Intelligence Service is in charge of postmortem procedures for North Korean soldiers whose bodies are found in the South. But in cases of North Korean civilians, the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean ties, is in charge. The ministry normally asks the North whether it wishes to retrieve civilian bodies, and if the North concedes, they are handed over.

BY CHOI MO-RAN, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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