South Korean soldiers stand at Arrowhead Ridge, a site of battles in the 1950-53 Korean War, as a tactical road is built across the military demarcation line inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in the central section of the inter-Korean border in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, in South Korea on November 22, 2018. North and South Korea have connected a road across their shared border for the first time in 14 years, Seoul's defence ministry said on November 22 in the latest reconciliation gesture between the neighbours. / AFP / POOL / Kim Min-Hee
South Korean soldiers stand at the military demarcation line inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), in South Korea on November 22, 2018. AFP

North Korean soldier defects to South despite easing tensions



A North Korean soldier defected to South Korea across the eastern land border on Saturday, the South's military said.

Defections across the closely guarded inter-Korean frontier are rare, and this one comes as the neighbours pursue a delicate reconciliation process.

"A North Korean soldier was detected crossing the military demarcation line" by South Korean troops using surveillance equipment, the military Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.

"The soldier is safely in our custody," it said. "Related agencies plan to investigate him regarding the details of how he came to the South."

Even as talks on denuclearisation between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled, the two Koreas are pushing ahead with a reconciliation process, taking steps to ease tensions along their heavily fortified border.

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They have begun work to reconnect their railway systems, removed landmines and destroyed military bunkers at parts of the frontier.

More than 30,000 North Korean civilians have fled their homeland but most flee across the porous frontier with China, and rarely across the inter-Korean border which is fortified with minefields and barbed wire.

The last defection involving North Koreans occurred in May when two civilians aboard a small boat defected to the South across the Yellow Sea.

In November last year, a North Korean soldier drove to the heavily guarded border at speed and ran across under a hail of bullets from his own side.

He was hit multiple times in the dramatic defection at the Panmunjom truce village.

In 2012 a North Korean soldier walked unchecked through rows of electrified fencing and surveillance cameras, prompting Seoul to sack three field commanders for the security lapse.

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Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

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The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

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