A porous border

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A porous border

If a North Korean defector in his 20s really returned to the North across the border as Pyongyang claims, that’s a serious matter. We are dumbfounded that the military demarcation line is so porous. South and North Korea are separated by the 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) wide demilitarized zone (DMZ) located on each side along the 155-mile long military demarcation line from the east to west coast. Our troops are on alert 24/7 with multiple barbed-wire fences set up on the DMZ. If a North Korean defector really crossed the border, our military must take responsibility.

In October 2012, a North Korean soldier crossed the border to a South Korean guard post in Goseong, Gangwon, without any difficulties and expressed his will to defect to South Korea. In 2015, another North Korean soldier had been hiding near a South Korean guard post at night before defecting to South Korea the next morning. Whenever such defections took place, our military authorities repeatedly vowed to prevent them. And yet, our military is busy trying to figure out what happened — only after North Korea made public the return of a defector to the North.

North Korean defectors are closely monitored by police officers tasked with helping their settlement up to five years after finishing a three-month education in a state-designated facility for their adjustment to a capitalist system. If the defector really defected to South Korea three years ago as North Korea claims and went back to North Korea, that means our authorities failed to manage North Korean defectors appropriately.

The Moon Jae-in administration must deal with the unusual way the North behaves with regard to the alleged return of a North Korean defector. Boisterously propagandizing his return, Pyongyang raised the suspicion that he had caught a new coronavirus in South Korea. North Korea even said it had enforced a lockdown on Kaesong, where he allegedly stayed for five days, after declaring its “highest level emergency situation” on the city.

The claims by North Korea could be true. But if not, it could be a sly tactic aimed at putting the blame for the outbreak of Covid-19 in the country on South Korea. Pyongyang has been insisting that it does not have any Covid-19 patients. But signs of confirmed cases — and the North Korean authorities’ inability to control the spread — are everywhere. North Korea will most likely blame the coronavirus carried by the defector into the country.

Regardless of the truth of North Korea’s allegations, our government must first find out what really happened, prevent North Korean defectors from returning to the North in the future and devise effective strategies.
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