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North Korean Teen Soldier Defects to South Korea Across DMZ

by Reuters /  / Updated 
IMAGE: DMZ
A woman takes pictures of North Korea near the border village of Panmunjom, on the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War on Saturday, April 14, 2012. Lee Jin-man / ASSOCIATED PRESS

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SEOUL - A teenaged North Korean soldier walked across the world's most heavily militarized border on Monday in a bid to defect to South Korea, South Korean Defense Ministry officials said.

While there are more than a thousand defections from North Korea to South Korea every year, most defectors come via China and it is rare for a North Korean to cross the heavily mined Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The last such crossing was in 2012.

The soldier approached a remote South Korean guard post in Gangwon province's Hwacheon county, in the central area of the peninsula, at about 8 a.m. on Monday, one Defense Ministry official said. There was no exchange of fire or warning shots as the soldier clearly expressed his desire to defect, the official said.

The soldier was being held in custody while officials ran checks.

Stretching across the Korean peninsula, the DMZ is 2.5 miles wide and is fortified with landmines and barbed wire. There are telephones on the South Korean side for defectors from the North to call seeking help. Yonhap News Agency reported that the North Korean military had been laying landmines along parts of the border this year, in an apparent move to prevent defections, citing a South Korean government official.

South Korean's defense ministry declined to confirm the report.

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