SEOUL, Dec. 22 (Korea Bizwire) – Another North Korean soldier defected to the South on December 21, making him the 15th defector this year.
The number of North Korean defections has tripled from last year, leading some to speculate on the reasons behind the increase.
Unlike his compatriot who made a daring run to freedom through a hail of gunfire exactly 38 days prior, Thursday’s defector was a new 19-year-old recruit in the military. Also unlike his compatriot, he was able to cross the military demarcation line (MDL) and enter South Korean territory unscathed.
According to a statement issued by the joint chiefs of staff, the North Korean defected on the midwestern border at 8:04 a.m. He was spotted by a South Korean military outpost and taken in without suffering harm or injury. The defector was equipped with a military issue AK-47 rifle.
The situation became fraught with tension, as the joint chiefs of staff revealed that at 9:24 a.m., a North Korean tracking unit was sighted approaching the MDL. In accordance with protocol, South Korean troops broadcasted warnings to the foreign troops three times, and fired 20 warning shots from a K-3 machine gun.
Though no concrete evidence was discovered, the military has surmised that the North Koreans had returned fire.
“Twice, at 10:13 a.m and 10:16 a.m., troops at the front heard the sound of multiple gunshots coming from the North,” the joint chiefs of staff stated. “We have not yet discovered any trace of the fired rounds on our side, and no injuries or damages have been reported.”
The reasons behind the latest defection are yet unclear; the military has stated that the North Korean soldier is set to undergo questioning by military authorities.
Including this case, there have been four military defections this year. Overall, the fifteen defectors crossed over on nine separate occasions.
Unlike many North Korean soldiers, civilians have generally braved the sea in their attempts to reach the South.
Last July, a group of five (four men and one woman) made a successful journey via a small boat on the East Sea. They were preceded a month prior by a 50-year-old who made the trip with his son.
Also in June, a North Korean defector swam across the mouth of the Han River (the northern tip of the Han River, near Gimpo peninsula) with branches and styrofoam strapped to the body to stay afloat.
These occurrences have led some to wonder whether the U.N. sanctions on the reclusive country and the resulting hardships have been the driving force behind the increased defections.
However, the statistics show that the number of North Koreans that indirectly entered South Korea this year actually declined by 16.8 percent from last year. By the end of October, 961 individuals had landed on South Korean soil.
Theories as to why there has been an increase in defections, but drop in North Koreans indirectly entering the country (the most common route is via China) say North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s ramping up of security at the North Korean-Chinese border has made it harder for civilians to escape.
The Ministry of Unification has said that this year’s North Korean influx cannot be seen as out of the ordinary compared to past years.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Command issued a report where it declared that it is working with the South Korean joint chiefs of staff to gain a better grasp of the situation.
Divided at the 38th parallel, North and South Korea have been separated ever since the outbreak of civil war in 1950. The two sides signed an armistice in 1953, but technically remain at war. The ensuing 64 years have at times been plagued with North Korean acts of aggression and provocations.
Kevin Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)