A North Korean soldier defected to South Korea through the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) early today (Dec. 21), said South Korea’s military.
South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that the “low-ranking” soldier appeared in front of a checkpoint amid thick fog at around 8am local time. There was no gunfire during his escape, but South Korea’s military later fired about 20 warning shots at North Korean guards searching for the defector. Authorities are investigating the soldier’s intentions.
The defection comes five weeks after another North Korean soldier’s daring escape through the truce village of Panmunjom in the DMZ, a strip of land dividing the two Koreas that’s among the most heavily guarded borders in the world. The soldier, later identified as 24-year-old Oh Chung-sung, was shot at about 40 times and hit five times on Nov. 13.
Today’s defection marks the fourth by a North Korean soldier and the 15th overall from the country this year, according to Yonhap, citing data from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Separately, a South Korean official said two North Koreans on a fishing boat also defected to the South yesterday. An unusually large number of North Korean “ghost ships” (paywall) have washed ashore in Japan this year, carrying both live and dead crew. A tally from early December showed at least 42 North Korean fishermen were rescued alive this year, compared with zero in 2016.
North Korean fishermen are driven farther out into treacherous waters toward Japan in outdated vessels due to food shortages, international sanctions, and the sale of some of North Korea’s fishing rights in the Yellow Sea to China.