The man was found early Tuesday near a checkpoint on the eastern end of the heavily fortified demilitarized zone.

The South Korean military says it has captured a North Korean man who crossed the heavily fortified border between the two countries and is investigating whether he attempted a robbery.

The man was found around 4:20 a.m. (19:20 GMT on Monday) near a checkpoint at the eastern end of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas and was taken into custody after a three hour search, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS ) said on Tuesday.

“He is believed to be a North Korean and we are conducting an investigation into the details, including how he was run down and whether he wanted a defect,” the JCS said in a statement.

“We will provide more details after wrapping the probe,” she added.

There has been no unusual movement across the border, but the military is reviewing its security situation in the area, it added.

Around 30,000 North Koreans have fled oppression and poverty to South Korea.

The vast majority of defectors first travel to neighboring China and sometimes stay there for years before reaching the south via third countries. Only a handful risk crossing the DMZ, which is heavily fortified and closely watched.

Total defects down

North Korea’s ongoing lockdowns to fight COVID-19 have resulted in a sharp drop in the number of defectors arriving in South Korea.

Around 200 North Koreans settled in the south last year, a drop of around 80 percent from 2019 and an all-time low, Union Minister Lee In-young said last month, referring to the closing of the borders by the withdrawn state in January 2020.

The last publicly known case was in November when a North Korean man migrated to South Korea via the Eastern DMZ.

In early 2020, after months of secrecy, Seoul also admitted that a senior North Korean diplomat serving as ambassador to Kuwait emigrated south with his family in 2019.

Around 30,000 North Koreans have fled oppression and poverty to the south [File: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters]Cross-border relations deteriorated after the denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington stalled in 2019, and anger grew last year after North Korean forces shot and killed a South Korean fisheries officer who was missing at sea.

In July, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared an emergency and sealed a border town after a person with COVID-19 symptoms illegally crossed the border from South Korea to the north.

North Korea has not confirmed any COVID-19 cases, although Seoul officials have expressed doubts about their claims, given the country’s close relationship with China where the virus first emerged.