North Korean soldier defects to South despite easing tensions

It comes as the neighbours pursue a delicate reconciliation process

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
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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.