Military defection

North Korean soldier defects to South after shooting to death two superiors

He kills two of his superiors in escape bid, which is just the fourth in 10 years

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 October, 2012, 2:42am

A North Korean soldier defected to the South yesterday through the heavily militarised border, apparently shooting dead two superior officers in the process, the South Korean military said.

This is only the fourth such defection reported in the last 10 years, with none of the past incidents involving fatal shootings. It could raise already heightened tensions between the two Koreas ahead of the South's presidential election in December.

"Six gunshots were heard and our guards spotted a North Korean soldier crossing the military demarcation line," a spokesman for Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said. "Through loudspeakers, we confirmed he wanted to defect to the South and we led him to safety."

The spokesman added that the soldier was being held in protective custody. Under initial interrogation, the soldier said he had shot and killed his squad and platoon leaders before making his escape.

There was no independent confirmation of any casualties, but Yonhap news agency cited an unidentified military official as saying two North Korean soldiers had been seen "lying on the ground". There was no immediate comment from Pyongyang.

Military defections across the land border between the two Koreas are rare, with the last reported crossing by a North Korean soldier in 2010, and previous instances in 2008 and 2002.

Once described by former US president Bill Clinton as "the scariest place on earth", the demilitarised zone that divides the Korean peninsula between North and South was created after the 1950-1953 Korean war.

Four kilometres wide and 248 kilometres long, it is a no-man's land of heavily fortified fences, bristling with the landmines and listening posts of two nations that technically remain at war.

Yesterday's defection occurred at the only functioning transport link across the land border, a narrow road-and-rail corridor between the South and an industrial zone where southern companies have invested on the northern side.

South Korean soldiers in the area were put on alert afterwards.

The latest defection comes at a sensitive time, with both Koreas trading accusations of provocative behaviour in the run-up to the December 19 presidential election in the South.

"This is a real embarrassment for the North as the soldiers deployed along the border are supposedly the most loyal to (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-un," said Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

"The North will demand the soldier's immediate repatriation and the situation could easily escalate," he said.