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North Korean Braves Walk Across the DMZ to Defect

It is very rare for North Koreans to attempt to defect by crossing the DMZ, which is heavily guarded and littered with landmines. Most go across the Chinese border instead.
June 15, 2015, 12:35pm
Photo par Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA

A teenage North Korean soldier has defected to the South by walking across the border between the two Koreas, a zone guarded by tens of thousands of troops and planted with land mines.

An official at South Korea's defense ministry said that the serviceman, believed to be in his late teens, walked across the border through the central eastern front at about 8AM local time. The ministry official requested anonymity, citing office rules.

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No gunfire was exchanged. The serviceman told the ministry that he was beaten regularly and had grievances about the North Korean regime, according to the official.

Related: We Spoke to a North Korean Defector Who Escaped Terrible Working Conditions Overseas

It is very rare for North Koreans to defect to the South via the 2.5 mile stretch of land dividing the Koreas, known as the DMZ, or demilitarized zone. The last time it happened was in 2012 when a North Korean soldier walked south of the barbed-wire fences without getting caught by guards. Most of the about 25,000 defectors now living in South Korea reached there by traveling across the Chinese border.

The DMZ is fortified with land mines and barbed wire and guarded by tens of thousands of troops on both sides.

It is a criminal offense to for a North Korean to leave the country without state permission. When Kim Jong-un came to power in 2011, the government issued a shoot-on-sight order to border guards to stop illegal crossing at the northern border into China, according to Human Rights Watch. Since then, says the NGO, the government has increased rotations of North Korean border guards and cracked down on guards who turn a blind eye when people cross.

Related: 'I'd Been Brainwashed': The North Korean Defector Living In London

The Associated Press contributed to this report.