January 27, 2022

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Seoul: The man who crossed the border to return to North Korea may be a repentant former defector

The man who crossed the heavily monitored border between South and North Korea on foot between Saturday and Sunday may have been a North Korean who defected to the South in 2020 via the same area.

“The authorities are assuming the person is a North Korean defector and are investigating what happened,” Seoul’s Defense Ministry said on Monday.
A ministry official told reporters that the 30-year-old may have arrived in the south in November 2020. “He looked and was wearing the same person who defected from the north in 2020,” a ministry official told reporters.

Investigators are trying to understand whether the movement discovered over the weekend on the northern side of the border was by North Korean forces who came to escort the man, although Seoul authorities have so far ruled out espionage.

Since closing its borders in 2020, North Korea has taken very strict measures to combat the coronavirus: In September 2020, Pyongyang apologized after its forces killed a South Korean official who had crossed the sea border between the two countries. Two months ago, North Korea declared a national emergency and closed a border town after a North Korean defector with COVID-19 symptoms illegally returned from the South.

Rare defections across land borders

It is rare to cross the so-called demilitarized zone on the northern border of Seoul, as most of those fleeing pass through China. In general, cases of defection from south to north are very rare. However, several incidents in recent years have raised concerns in South Korea about insecurity. When the suspected defector crossed into North Korea in 2020, he was not taken into custody until 14 hours after crossing the border.

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In Saturday’s case, the person’s presence near the border went unnoticed for about three hours after CCTV cameras recorded an image of a man climbing over the fence and setting off alarms.

In June, South Korea announced that it would speed up the acquisition of a railway-mounted robot and an AI-enabled audio and video system to increase security along the border.