South Korean soldiers reportedly fired warning shots at North Korean border troops as they searched for yet another defector that managed to make it across the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea early Thursday morning. While it was once considered nearly impossible to cross the heavily fortified Military Demarcation Line (MDL) that houses a significant guard presence on either side of the border, Thursday morning’s events mark the second time in recent history a North Korean soldier has successfully made it across.
The recent influx of bold attempts at defection may be indicative of increasingly dire circumstances for Kim Jong Un’s military.
Unlike the dramatic events that unfolded around the November defection, Thursday’s events at least began quietly. November’s defection saw North Korean soldiers violate the 1953 armistice that halted the war between the divided nation by firing rounds into South Korea and even crossing the border briefly during their pursuit; however, the most recent defector managed to cross under heavy fog, and wasn’t spotted until he appeared in front of a guard post at around 8:04 a.m.
Not keen to suffer such an embarrassment yet again, however, North Korean troops reportedly pushed their search for the missing soldier far enough to illicit a series of 20 warning shots from South Korean border guards at 9:30 a.m., who intended to ensure North Korean forces remained on their side of the border this time.
While North Korean forces did not return fire at the time, the sound of gunfire rang out from the North Korean side of the border some 40 minutes later, though South Korean officials indicated that the shots did not appear to impact anywhere in South Korean territory. It can be postulated, then, that the shots may have been a matter of posturing, or potentially even the execution of other captured defectors or even border guards responsible for preventing such defections. Following November’s defection, all of the North Korean troops assigned to the demilitarized zone were rotated out to a fate unknown, with a new series of soldiers taking their place.
The newly defected soldier is said to be in his late teens to early twenties, and was armed with a “personal firearm” when discovered by South Korean troops.
Little information has been released regarding the condition of the most recent defector, but the condition of the soldier who was shot crossing the border in November indicates that Kim’s border troops have struggled with hunger and poor hygiene. The soldier’s stomach had only a few hardened corn kernels in it, and he suffered from significant and untreated parasitic infections, including round worms measuring as long as 11 inches.
“There are countless soldiers in North Korea who cannot even walk because of malnourishment,” Another North Korean soldier that defected, Kang Ri Hyuk, told reporters last month. “The UN is sending rice and fertilizer to North Korea, but not a single grain goes to North Korea’s ordinary people.”
Prior to 2017, only four members of North Korea’s military had defected in five years. This year, four soldiers have defected since June alone. 11 civilians have also successfully fled into South Korea from Kim’s nation this year, a significant increase from just four in 2016. The increasing rate of defections combined with the general condition of the defectors are both strong indicators that financial sanctions against Kim Jong Un’s North Korean regime are indeed having a widespread effect on the nation – unfortunately, it would appear that Kim has thus far continued to funnel his dwindling resources into his weapons programs, rather than providing his troops, and likely his people, with the necessities for survival.
On November 28th, North Korea tested their most advanced ballistic missile platform to date, the Hwasong-15. Although the platform’s reentry vehicle appeared to fail, the missile itself seems capable of reaching targets as far away as America’s East Coast, prompting celebrations throughout the North Korean nation.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press