South Korean soldiers escort defector to safety after finding him on their side of military demarcation line
North and South Korean soldiers shake hands during an operation to reconnect a road across the military demarcation line inside the demilitarised zone. Photograph: HANDOUT/Reuters
A North Korean soldier has defected to the South by crossing the border in the demilitarised zone (DMZ), where the two countries have been removing fortifications to reduce tensions and build trust.
The escape came as the US president, Donald Trump, said he hoped for another summit with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un next year, despite growing concerns that denuclearisation talks between the two nations have effectively stalled.
The latest defector, who has not been named, was spotted moving towards the demarcation line, South Korea’s military said in a statement. After the crossing the soldier was escorted to safety and, like all defectors, will be investigated.
In September a deal was reached to reduce military tensions. South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in has been eager to push ahead with better ties and closer economic links with the North, even without progress in wider nuclear talks. As part of this effort, South Korea last month also sent trains north for the first time in a decade to survey North Korean railways.
The two countries started removing guard posts and mines from some areas, and are planning the first joint search for remains of soldiers killed in the 1950 to 1953 Korean war.
Around 30,000 North Koreans have fled to the South since the end of that conflict, most travelling through China. Pyongyang frequently accuses Seoul of kidnapping or bribing citizens to defect.
Although defections across the DMZ are rare, they have sometimes provoked a show of force from North Korea, bringing the risk of escalation in an area swarming with soldiers and weapons.
Last year North Korean soldiers shot at the defector Oh Chong-song has he raced across the border; he barely escaped with his life and spent months in hospital. One month later another soldier crossed the border in heavy fog.
However there has not been any unusual response to the latest border crossing from North Korean troops in the area, South Korean officials said.