ROK’s person crosses armed border in rare defection to DPRK

The ROK's soldiers patrol along a barbed wire fence in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), on the island of Ganghwa on April 23, 2020. (ED JONES / AFP)

SEOUL – A person from the Republic of Korea (ROK) has crossed the heavily fortified border in a rare defection to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), the ROK's military said on Sunday.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it carried out a search operation after detecting the person around 9:20 pm (1220 GMT) on Saturday on the eastern side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two countries.

The ROK's Joint Chiefs of Staff said it could not confirm whether the person who crossed the heavily fortified border was alive, but sent a notice to the DPRK via a military hotline asking for protection

"We've confirmed that the person crossed the Military Demarcation Line border about 10:40 pm (1340 GMT) and defected to the North," the JCS said. The DPRK is also referred to as North Korea.

The JCS said it could not confirm whether the person was alive, but sent a notice to the DPRK via a military hotline asking for protection.

The border crossing, which is illegal in the ROK, came as the DPRK carries out strict anti-coronavirus measures since shutting borders in early 2020.

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The DPRK's leader Kim Jong-un declared a national emergency and sealed off a border town after a DPRK's defector who he said had COVID-19 symptoms illegally crossed the border into the country from the ROK.

The DPRK's prolonged lockdowns and restrictions on inter-provincial movement have also pushed the number of the DPRK's defectors arriving in the ROK to an all-time low.

Cross-border relations soured after denuclearization negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington stalled since a failed summit in 2019.

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The ROK and a US-led UN force are technically still at war with the DPRK since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.