The demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas was the scene of an unusual amount of action Monday as an American man unsuccessfully attempted to cross into the North and a North Korean soldier succeeded in defecting to the South.
The 2.5-mile-wide strip between North and South Korea, which President Bill Clinton once called “the scariest place on Earth,” has kept the two states separate since the Korean War ended in 1953 in an armistice and without a peace treaty.
But a handful of North Koreans have made it across in recent years, and several Americans have been thwarted trying to make the opposite journey.
A 58-year-old man from Louisiana was arrested by South Korean forces Monday morning for crossing the civilian control line just outside the DMZ as part of an attempt to get into North Korea “for political purposes,” authorities said.
A resident of the border county of Yeoncheon, 40 miles north of Seoul, saw the man and alerted police, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
The man, identified only as “A,” arrived in South Korea three days earlier.
The U.S. Embassy in Seoul was aware of the report and was looking into it, an official said. “If it is determined that a U.S. citizen has been detained, the U.S. Embassy will provide appropriate consular services,” he said.
In a separate incident, a North Korean soldier manning a guard post on the northern side of the Joint Security Area – the border-straddling site of squat blue buildings where inter-Korean meetings are sometimes held – defected to the South.
He was shot by North Korean soldiers while escaping across the line and is being treated in a hospital, South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said.
“The military has raised its alertness against the North Korean military’s possible provocations and is maintaining its full readiness posture,” a military official said, according to Yonhap.
President Donald Trump attempted to visit the DMZ last week during his trip to South Korea, but his helicopter had to turn back because of bad weather.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Anna Fifield