South Korea says North Korean soldier defects to South

This handout taken on an unconfirmed date and released by the South Korean Defence Ministry on November 22, 2018 shows a South Korean soldier (R) shaking hands with a North Korean soldier (L) near the Military Demarcation Line (yellow signboard) during a recent operation to construct a tactical road to support a joint war remains recovery project in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas in Cheorwon. (AFP)
Updated 01 December 2018
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South Korea says North Korean soldier defects to South

  • The defection comes as the North and South Korean militaries push to reduce tensions across their border

SEOUL, South Korea: A North Korean soldier fled across a heavily fortified border to defect to South Korea early Saturday, the military in Seoul said, just as the rivals began taking steps to reduce military tensions.
South Korean soldiers escorted the defector to safety after finding him moving south of the eastern side of the military demarcation line that bisects the Koreas, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
South Korean authorities plan to question the defector over the details of his escape. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said it had not observed any unusual activity from North Korean troops in the area where the defection happened.
It comes as the North and South Korea have pushed to implement a wide-ranging military agreement reached in September to reduce tensions across their border.
The North’s official media hasn’t reported about Saturday’s case. Pyongyang has frequently accused Seoul of kidnapping or enticing its citizens to defect. About 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea, mostly traveling via China, since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Last November, a North Korean soldier was critically wounded in a jointly controlled area after he fled to the South amid a hail of bullets fired by his former comrades. The soldier, Oh Chong Song, survived and told a Japanese newspaper last month that he had been drinking after getting into unspecified trouble with his friends. He said he kept going after breaking through a checkpoint in a military jeep because he became fearful of being executed.
South Korea says the military agreement, which also included creating buffer zones along the Koreas’ land and sea boundaries and a no-fly zone above the border, is an important trust-building step that would help stabilize peace and advance reconciliation between the rivals. But critics say the South risks conceding some of its conventional military strength before North Korea takes any meaningful steps on denuclearization, as the larger nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang seemingly drift into a stalemate.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Friday that the Korean militaries completed removing 20 front-line guard posts and land mines from a border area where they plan to start their first-ever joint search for remains of soldiers killed during the 1950-53 Korean War.
The Koreas and the US-led UN Command recently finished removing firearms and troops from the jointly controlled area at the border village of Panmunjom, and eventually plan to allow tourists to freely move around there.


Seoul: North Korea withdrew staff from liaison office

Updated 40 min 35 sec ago
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Seoul: North Korea withdrew staff from liaison office

  • The second US-North Korea summit in Vietnam collapsed due to disputes over US-led sanctions on the North
  • The South Korean statement calls the North’s decision “regrettable”

SEOUL: North Korea abruptly withdrew its staff from an inter-Korean liaison office in the North on Friday, Seoul officials said.
The development will likely put a damper on ties between the Koreas and complicate global diplomacy on the North’s nuclear weapons program. Last month, the second US-North Korea summit in Vietnam collapsed due to disputes over US-led sanctions on the North.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry said that North Korea informed South Korea of its decision during a meeting at the liaison office at the North Korean border town of Kaesong on Friday.
The North said it “is pulling out with instructions from the superior authority,” according to a Unification Ministry statement. It didn’t say whether North Korea’s withdrawal of staff would be temporary or permanent.
According to the South Korean statement, the North added that it “will not mind the South remaining in the office” and that it would notify the South about practical matters later. Seoul’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters that South Korea plans to continue to staff the Kaesong liaison office normally and that it expects the North will continue to allow the South Koreans to commute to the office. He said Seoul plans to staff the office with 25 people on Saturday and Sunday.
The South Korean statement calls the North’s decision “regrettable.” It said South Korea urges the North to return its staff to the liaison office soon.
The liaison office opened last September as part of a flurry of reconciliation steps. It is the first such Korean office since the peninsula was split into a US-backed, capitalistic South and a Soviet-supported, socialist North in 1945. The Koreas had previously used telephone and fax-like communication channels that were often shut down in times of high tension.
The town is where the Korea’s now-stalled jointly run factory complex was located. It combined South Korean initiatives, capital and technology with North Korea’s cheap labor. Both Koreas want the US to allow sanctions exemptions to allow the reopening of the factory park, which provided the North with much-needed foreign currency.