SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea’s military said an unidentified person crossed the heavily fortified border into North Korea on Sunday.
South Korea had previously discovered the person with surveillance equipment in the eastern part of the border and sent troops to arrest them on Saturday night. But the troops couldn’t find the person, and surveillance equipment detected the person crossing the border, Joint Chiefs of Staff officers said.
South Korea sent a message to North Korea on Sunday morning to ensure the person’s safety, but the North has not responded, officials said, citing the department’s regulations, demanding anonymity.
It was unclear if this was a rare case of a South Korean hoping to defeat north, or if it was a North Korean who for some reason briefly entered South Korean territory before returning to the north.
In September 2020, North Korea fatally shot and killed a South Korean fisheries officer who was found floating in its waters along a poorly marked sea border. South Korea said North Korean forces had orders to shoot anyone crossing the border illegally in order to protect themselves from the coronavirus pandemic.
In early 2020, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un completely closed a border town after a North Korean defector sneaked home with symptoms similar to COVID-19. The fate of the defector who lived in South Korea is unknown.
On Saturday, North Korea announced that it had decided to make strict virus restrictions a top priority at a high-level meeting of the ruling party last week.
The two Koreas are divided along the world’s most heavily armed border, the demilitarized zone. An estimated 2 million mines are dotted within and near the 255 mile long and 4.1 mile wide DMZ, which is also guarded by barbed wire fences, tank traps, and combat troops on either side.
Defects via the DMZ are rare. At the height of their Cold War rivalry, both Koreas sent agents and spies to each other’s territory through the DMZ, but no such incidents have been reported in recent years.
About 34,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the late 1990s to avoid poverty or political oppression, but the vast majority of them came through China and Southeast Asian countries.
North Korea has yet to report any cases of the coronavirus while experts have questioned its claim of a perfect record.