The South Korean pig farmer believed to have defected to North Korea by cutting through barbed wire at the heavily fortified border was wanted by police for assault, officials said Wednesday.
North Korea’s state media reported Tuesday that a 30-year-old South Korean defector was in the “warm care” of North Korean officials in what would be a rare instance of defection from the South to the impoverished North.
A gash in barbed wire in an eastern segment of the Demilitarized Zone indicates someone cut through the fencing from South Korea, Park Sung-woo, a spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday.
Military officials confirmed that the alleged defector, Kang Dong-rim, served at a base not far from the spot where the fence had been cut.
Kang was wanted on assault charges for allegedly striking the owner of the pig farm that employed him with a hammer last month, police official Kim In-ki said Wednesday in the southern city of Jinan.
The North Korean report said Kang had harbored a “longing” for North Korea and tried to defect several times while serving mandatory South Korean military service between 2001-2003.
“He is pleased with the accomplishment of his desire for defection,” Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said.
The KCNA report did not say how Kang was able to make it across the DMZ, which is guarded by hundreds of thousands of combat-ready troops on both sides. The 2.5-mile-wide (4-kilometer-wide) DMZ is also strewn with land mines and laced with barbed wire.
South Korean guards are authorized to shoot to kill anyone caught in the zone who cannot provide the correct password, a spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
South Korea’s anti-communist National Security Law bars citizens from making unauthorized visits to North Korea.
The two countries remain in a state of war because their three-year conflict ended in 1953 with a truce, not a peace treaty. The division of the peninsula split up millions of families, with most unable to contact relatives on the other side of the border.
North Korea has reached out to Seoul and Washington recently after months of tension over its nuclear and missile programs. Earlier this week, South Korea offered a small amount of food aid to North Korea — its first direct assistance to the impoverished neighbor in nearly two years — but the North hasn’t responded.
Last month, a 54-year-old South Korean was sentenced to a suspended prison term for trying unsuccessfully to defect to the North through a North Korean diplomatic mission in China earlier this year. The man reportedly said he wanted to live in his father’s homeland.
In 2007, another South Korean entered the North across the North’s border with China but was expelled. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
More than 16,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the Korean War, with many of them coming via the Chinese-North Korean border in part because of the difficulty of crossing the Demilitarized Zone. Last year, about 2,800 North Koreans arrived in the South, up from about 2,500 in 2007.