A South Korean has crossed the heavily fortified border with North Korea in a rare defection, according to South Korea’s military.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff said it carried out a search operation after detecting the person around 9:20 pm on Saturday on the eastern side of the Demilitarised Zone separating the two Koreas.
“We’ve confirmed that the person crossed the Military Demarcation Line border about 10:40 pm and defected to the North,” the JCS said.
The military said it could not confirm the person was alive, but sent a notice to the North via a military hotline asking for the unnamed individual’s protection.
The border crossing, which is illegal in South Korea, came as North Korea carries out strict anti-coronavirus measures since shutting borders in early 2020, though it has not confirmed any infections.
A public and political uproar was sparked when North Korean troops shot dead a South Korean fisheries official who went missing at sea in September 2020, for which Pyongyang blamed anti-virus rules and apologised.
Two months earlier, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared a national emergency and sealed off a border town after a North Korean defector who allegedly had COVID-19 symptoms illegally crossed the border into the North from the South.
The North’s prolonged lockdowns and restrictions on inter-provincial movement have also pushed the number of North Korean defectors arriving in the South to an all-time low
Cross-border relations soured after denuclearisation negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington stalled in 2019.