North Korea soldier defections reach highest rate this century


SEOUL: A second North Korean soldier in as many months fled across the heavily fortified land border separating the two Koreas, capping a year that has seen the most military defections this century from Kim Jong Un’s regime.

The low-ranking soldier crossed at around 8 am Thursday, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

South Korea’s military fired about 20 warning shots as North Korean guards chased the defector in thick fog, Yonhap News Agency reported.

Last month, another North Korean soldier was shot as he crossed near the Joint Security Area – the only part of the demilitarized zone where forces from both countries stand face-to-face. That defection was only the third across the heavily guarded JSA since 1998.

While escapes like Thursday’s across a less sensitive area of the border are more common, it’s rare for soldiers to defect. Four troops have crossed into South Korea this year, the most since at least 2000.

United Nations Command said that North Korea breached the inter-Korean armistice agreement when its border guards fired across the military demarcation line at the previous defector. He is now recovering in a South Korean hospital.

North Korea and South Korea are technically still at war, with Kim’s regime saying a 1953 armistice agreement is invalid.

President Donald Trump has threatened military action to prevent Kim from obtaining the ability to strike the continental US with a nuclear weapon.

Separately, two North Korean civilians defected south on a fishing boat Wednesday, Yonhap said, citing a Unification Ministry official.

According to the ministry, 881 North Koreans defected to South Korea in the first nine months of this year, compared with 1,418 in the whole of 2016. Most come by way of China.