A South Korean man defected to communist North Korea by crossing the heavily fortified frontier, Pyongyang's state media reported Tuesday — but it didn't say how he navigated a no man's land where guards can shoot to kill.
The case appeared to be a rare instance of a South Korean defecting to the impoverished North, though thousands have defected from North Korea to the South in recent years.
South Korea's military said it had found a fence cut open along the southeastern part of the Demilitarized Zone. It said the man identified by the North was a former soldier who had served in the area and who is wanted on assault charges.
Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said the 30-year-old man, identified as Kang Tong Rim, crossed into North Korea on Monday and was in the country's "warm care." It said he had worked at Samsung Electronics' semiconductor unit and more recently at a pig farm.
The North Korean report did not say how Kang was able to make it across the Demilitarized Zone, which is guarded by hundreds of thousands of combat-ready troops on both sides. The 2.5-mile-wide DMZ is also strewn with land mines and laced with barbed wire.
South Korean guards are authorized to shoot to kill anyone caught in the zone who cannot provide the correct password, a spokesman for South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday.
Later Tuesday, South Korea's military said in a statement that soldiers had found the hole in the wire fence forming the southern boundary of the DMZ. It didn't say whether it was cut by the man cited by KCNA.
Wanted in assault case
The North Korean report said the Kang had harbored a "longing" for North Korea and tried to defect several times while serving mandatory South Korean military service between 2001-2003.
"He is beside himself with joy for having accomplished this heroic deed," KCNA said, according to Reuters.
The South Korean military statement said Kang had formerly served in an army division near where the fence was found cut and he has been on a police wanted list following his alleged involvement in an assault case in September.
South Korea's anti-communist National Security Law bars citizens from making unauthorized visits to North Korea.
The two countries remain in a state of war because their three-year conflict ended in 1953 with a truce, not a peace treaty. The division of the peninsula split up millions of families, with most unable to contact relatives on the other side of the border.
Previous defection attempts
North Korea has recently been reaching out to Seoul and Washington following months of tension over its nuclear and missile programs. Earlier this week, South Korea offered a small amount of food aid to North Korea — its first direct assistance to the impoverished neighbor in nearly two years — but the North hasn't responded.
Last month, a 54-year-old South Korean was sentenced to a suspended prison term for trying unsuccessfully to defect to the North through a North Korean diplomatic mission in China earlier this year. The man reportedly said he wanted to live in his father's homeland.
In 2007, another South Korean entered the North across the North's border with China but was expelled. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
More than 16,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the Korean War, with many of them coming via the Chinese-North Korean border in part because of the difficulty of crossing the Demilitarized Zone. Last year, about 2,800 North Koreans arrived in the South, up from about 2,500 in 2007.