Nov. 4 (UPI) — A North Korean man who identified himself as a civilian has defected to the South, marking the first publicly known North Korean defection across the DMZ since the coronavirus pandemic.
South Korea’s military said Wednesday the man, whose name is not being disclosed, is in his late 20s or early 30s and is “not a soldier,” Yonhap reported.
The North Korean civilian made clear his intention to seek asylum or resettlement in the South. The investigation is ongoing, the South’s military says.
South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said Wednesday the defector was caught on surveillance camera in an eastern area of Gangwon Province. The man was “safely secured” by authorities at 9:50 a.m., Seoul said.
The military is coming under renewed criticism for not bringing the man in earlier. The defector was able to cross over a barbed-wire fence without sounding the alarm, Newsis reported. The arrest of the defector did not occur immediately after, indicating a lapse in surveillance, the report says.
The North Korean man was also captured on thermal cameras twice on Monday, at 10:14 a.m. and 10:22 a.m., “loitering” around the military demarcation line. Authorities say the area is a “blind spot,” according to Yonhap.
The defection of the North Korean comes more than a month after a South Korean fisheries ministry officer was shot and burned in North Korean territory. North Korea state media has previously said the South is struggling to contain the coronavirus, and analysts have said the North was likely taking draconian measures against the South Korean officer.
The North Korean defector who was taken in on Wednesday tested negative for the coronavirus, according to reports.
North Korean defections across the DMZ are rare but have been rising in recent years. On July 31 of last year, a North Korean soldier defected via the Imjin River. On Dec. 1, 2018, a North Korean soldier crossed the MDL, and on Nov. 13, 2017, Oh Cheong-song of the North Korean army crossed into the South at the Joint Security Area under a hail of North Korean bullets.