Tough border: Human traffic at the Korean DMZ is hazardous in both directions

by WorldTribune Staff, November 13, 2017

In whichever direction they are heading, those who try to cross the heavily-armed border dividing North and South Korea are tempting fate.

On Nov. 13, North Korean troops shot one of their fellow soldiers when he fled the “worker’s paradise” in pursuit of happiness in South Korea.

DMZ sentry post

South Korean guards found the North Korean soldier on the southern side of the JSA, a small strip of land on the border between the two Koreas where troops from both sides stand face-to-face.

He was taken to a hospital with gunshot wounds to an elbow and shoulder, South Korean officials said. The North Korean soldier was unarmed and wearing a combat uniform for a low rank.

Also on Nov. 13, the South Korean military said it detained an American citizen who had approached the inter-Korean border.

South Korean defense, police and intelligence spokesmen all confirmed the detention of an American, but none would provide details on the record. The United States Embassy in Seoul said it was aware of the report but could not provide further details.

Since the late 1990s, more than 30,000 North Koreans have defected to the South. While most fled through China, some North Korean soldiers and civilians have braved the minefields, sentry posts and barbed wire fences (some of them electrified) to defect by crossing the 2.5-mile-wide demilitarized zone (DMZ).

Choe Sang-Hun, the Korea correspondent for The New York Times, noted in a Nov. 13 report that in 2012, “a North Korean soldier scaled three barbed-wire fences to defect to the South. That same year, another North Korean soldier fled across the border after killing his platoon and squadron leaders. In 2015, after walking across the border, a North Korean soldier told South Korean investigators that he was fleeing widespread beatings and other abuse within his military barracks.”

In 2013, Choe noted, “South Korean soldiers shot and killed a South Korean man who was trying to cross a river at the western end of the border.”

In 2014, “an American was detained by South Korean troops on a riverbank near the western border after trying to swim to the North. After he was apprehended, he told officials that he had intended to go to North Korea to meet its leader, Kim Jong-Un.”

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