An unidentified American man from Louisiana was detained Monday for apparently attempting to cross into North Korea via the country’s heavily fortified border with the South, according to South Korea’s defense ministry.
The man, 58, identified only as “A,” was arrested by South Korea’s military after crossing the Civilian Control Line, a restricted border area near the demilitarized zone, or DMZ, that formally separates the two Koreas. The man’s detention was first reported by Stars and Stripes, a newspaper that serves the American military.
According to Star and Stripes, South Korean investigators initially believed that “A” was attempting to enter North Korea for “political purposes.” However, that motive was subsequently ruled out after it was determined he had no “Communist connections.”
North Korea is often described as a Communist state, but its official ideology is Juche, or “self-reliance,” a political system that blends nationalism and Marxist economics.
“A” was detained after a member of the public alerted South Korea’s military to his presence in the area. The American arrived in South Korea on Friday, according to the Yonhap news agency. The U.S. Embassy in Seoul could not be reached for comment.
The man’s arrest came on the same day that North Korean soldiers shot at and wounded a fellow soldier who was defecting to the South. The soldier bolted from a guard post at the northern side of Panmunjom village in the Joint Security Area, where border guards of the rival Koreas stand facing each other just feet away.
The soldier was shot in the shoulder and elbow and taken to a South Korean hospital. It wasn’t immediately known how serious the soldier’s injuries were or why he decided to defect. North Korean soldiers have occasionally defected to South Korea across the border, but it’s rare for a North Korean soldier to defect via the Joint Security Area.
About 30,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, but most travel through China. The demilitarized zone between North and South Korea is guarded on both sides by hundreds of thousands of troops, razor-wire fences and tank traps. More than a million mines are buried inside the zone.
The defection came at a time of heightened tension over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and as President Trump wraps up a 12-day visit to Asia. Efforts to control Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions have been a major focus of the trip. South Korea did not fire on the soldier who defected, according to its military.
Areas around Panmunjom have been the site of bloodshed and defection attempts by North Koreans in the past, but there have been no such incidents in recent years.
The most famous incident was in 1976, when two American army officers were killed by ax-wielding North Korean soldiers. The attack prompted Washington to fly nuclear-capable B-52 bombers toward the DMZ in an attempt to intimidate North Korea.
In 1984, North Korean and U.N. Command soldiers traded gunfire after a Soviet citizen defected by sprinting to the South Korean sector of the truce village. The incident left three North Korean soldiers and one South Korean soldier dead. In 1998, a North Korean solider fled to South Korea via Panmunjom.
Source: USA Today