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NK soldier defects to S.Korea after killing 2 superiors

Posted October. 08, 2012 04:21,   


A North Korean solider on Saturday crossed the Military Demarcation Line of the inter-Korean joint management area of Gyeongui Line railway to defect to South Korea after killing two of his superiors.

The defection is the first by a North Korean soldier since March 2, 2010, when a soldier crossed the eastern section of the inter-Korean border in Gangwon Province. What is rare, however, is that a North Korean soldier defected to the South after killing superiors.

A source at South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Sunday, “A South Korean sentry soldier spotted a North Korean soldier crossing the Military Demarcation Line to reach a South Korean guard post in the joint management area of the Gyeongui Line in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, at 12:10 p.m. Saturday. The North Korean soldier was taken into custody after he was confirmed to have wanted to defect to the South.”

Around 12:06 p.m., the South Korean military was beefing up surveillance after hearing six gunshots from a North Korean guard post

The North Korean soldier reportedly said “I fled to defect after killing my platoon and squad leaders on guard duty at the guard post.”

A source at the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, “North Korean soldiers were seen moving two dead soldiers at a guard post.”

South Korean authorities immediately beefed up the alert level in the region, while Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Jung Seung-jo inspected the situation at the command control center of the joint chiefs office, but found no signs of unusual movement by the North Korean military.

Guard posts of the two sides in the joint management area are just 500 meters apart across the Military Demarcation Line. Both militaries check vehicles and personnel crossing the area, which is linked to the inter-Korean Kaesong industrial complex.

Soon after the incident, more than 300 staff from South Korean companies that have plants in the complex and who were staying there returned to the South as scheduled.

Two company members who were to enter the complex around 2 p.m. canceled their travel plans, however.

A South Korean Unification Ministry source said, “We are keeping a close watch on the situation, but since it was an accident related to military command discipline in the North, it has no influence on entry and return to and from the Kaesong industrial complex,” adding, “Entry and return will be processed as scheduled Monday as well.”

The North Korean military could seek to politicize the incident by demanding “repatriation of the soldier as a criminal” in the coming weeks.

A South Korean military source said, “We consider a defecting North Korean soldier a political criminal, and will not return him even if the North requests his repatriation.”

Analysts say the defection graphically illustrates loosened discipline in the North Korean military. The exact cause of his flight has yet to be confirmed, but his defection following his killing of superiors at the joint management area on the Gyeongui Line, which is reportedly deployed exclusively with soldiers possessing the best political background, illustrates the reality of loosened military discipline in the North.

Internal materials in the North have told of frequent incidents of weakened loyalty, including “practices wherein (soldiers) question and defy the direction of the ruling Workers’ Party’s ideology and justification of policies presented by the supreme commander,” and “practices wherein they fail to unconditionally implement the party’s policy as instructed.”

One piece of lecture material suggests that the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il "severely scolded commanders over the failure of officers to wear their uniforms properly at a military unit when he made an onsite inspection.” Kim also is known to have frequently censured military leaders for misappropriating and stealing military supplies.

Economic hardship in the North is another cause for weakening loyalty to Pyongyang. Baek Seung-joo, a senior researcher at South Korea’s Agency of Defense Analysis, said, “North Korean soldiers are also affected by the situation in which civilians are fleeing the North,” adding, “North Korean authorities are probably shocked by the latest incident.”

The North’s Korean Central News Agency reported Sunday that Pyongyang has begun efforts to strengthen discipline, with supreme leader Kim Jong Un ordering the detection of anti-government people.

In a visit to the State Security Department, he said, “This should be kept in mind that people with even the tiniest fantasy about or yielding to the enemy will directly lead to death and self-destruction,” adding, “Impure anti-government forces who have different dreams should be decisively and mercilessly crushed.”

In the wake of this instruction, Pyongyang is expected to strengthen security-focused rule under threat and beef up surveillance and control of the North Korean people.

shcho@donga.com will71@donga.com