SEOUL, South Korea – A North Korean man in a wetsuit and flippers crossed the eastern sea border with South Korea this week, military officials said on Wednesday. The soldiers of the south couldn’t see him until he walked down a road south of the heavily guarded border.
The crossing was the second embarrassing breach of border security by the South Korean military in recent months. In November, another North Korean man, a former gymnast, crawled over the border fence and was captured only half a mile south of the border. The military later said that sensors designed to set off alarms that alert South Korean guards were not working properly due to loose screws.
The youngest infiltrator from the north swam across the border on Tuesday and landed south of the 2.5-mile-wide Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the no-man’s buffer zone that separated the two Koreas after the war, the South Korean military said in a statement Wednesday .
Officials investigated the man’s motive in crossing the border, saying he may have been a defector from the north. He came ashore by crawling through a drain under a barbed wire fence that South Korea had built along the border beaches to deter North Korean infiltrators.
A video surveillance camera at a military checkpoint captured him on a road south at 4:20 a.m. Tuesday, but soldiers did not take him in for questioning until three hours later. When he was captured, the man was in the so-called civilian control zone south of the DMZ, where civilians are not allowed to travel without military permission.
“Our military has not taken adequate action, despite the fact that the man has been spotted in its surveillance system several times since landing,” the military said.
If someone from the north crosses the land border undetected, it raises questions about national security in South Korea. The two Koreas have been technically at war since the Korean conflict was halted by a ceasefire in 1950-53.
The Korean Demilitarized Zone is one of the most heavily armed borders in the world and is guarded by tall barbed wire fences, minefields, sensors, and nearly two million soldiers on either side.
Defects in the DMZ are relatively rare and dangerous. In November 2017, a North Korean soldier fell through a hail of bullets fired by his colleagues to enter the south via Panmunjom, the so-called ceasefire village on the border.
More than 33,000 people from North Korea have relocated to South Korea since a devastating famine struck the country in the 1990s. Most, however, did so via China, which borders the north, and eventually got to a South Korean embassy in another country.