SEOUL AND PAJU, SOUTH KOREA— South Korea's military shot and killed a man who was making a rare attempt to enter North Korea by floating across a river that runs near the heavily militarized border, the defense ministry said today. “In yesterday's operation we found a John Doe who was trying to defect to North Korea through the Imjin River and our guard forces intercepted the defector by shooting him down,” said South Korean Brigadier General Cho Jong-sul at the defense ministry's regular news briefing.
The ministry hasn't stated whether or not the man was South Korean. “As a result of the field investigation after the body was transported, he was confirmed as a man with a surname 'Nam' as we checked a passport, which was one of his belongings. In the process of a joint investigation, the passport was confirmed as his,” said Cho.
Cho went on to say that South Korean guards had called out to the man to return, but he ignored the instructions, jumped into the Imjin River and clung to a buoy to try to float across. He added that the shooting was justified as the identity of the man was unknown and he could have been a North Korean soldier.
Cho said he was told by the investigation team that the man was deported from Japan after his political refugee application was rejected. South and North Korea remain technically at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended only with an armistice. It is illegal to cross the border to the North without permission.
Instances of trying to cross the frontier in such a fashion in broad daylight are extremely rare. South Koreans wishing to travel to the reclusive North, which is accused by Western countries and defectors of systematic human rights violations, generally make their way through China.
Tens of thousands of North Koreans are believed to be in China and trying to come to the South. It is estimated that around 25,000 have so far made it to South Korea. The shooting comes amid a thaw in ties between North and South, with the reopening on Monday of the jointly-run Kaesong industrial zone just over the border in North Korea. The complex was shut down last April by North Korea as it issued daily threats to attack the South and its ally, the United States. The two sides also plan to hold more discussions on improving the operations of the factory park and are slated to hold reunions of families separated during the Korean War later this month.