N. Korean soldier makes weeklong journey to reach S. Korea
SEOUL, June 16 (Yonhap) -- The teenage North Korean soldier who defected to South Korea this week left his barracks earlier this month and finally crossed the border after a week-long journey, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said Tuesday.
On Monday, the 19-year-old lowest-ranking North Korean enlistee defected to the South through the border in Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, 118 kilometers northeast of Seoul. He told investigators that he made the decision after suffering from chronic assaults in the military.
"He went AWOL on June 7, and moved southwards either by vehicle or on foot, and crossed the military demarcation line last Sunday," the JCS said in a release.
"After staying overnight near our guard post (inside the demilitarized zone), the soldier was first spotted by our servicemembers on patrol at around 7:55 a.m. He right away expressed his will to defect, and we secured the man," it added.
As for the criticism over the military's lax border defense, a JCS officer said "it was foggy and the border area is thick in the woods, which effectively obstructed our view."
"He is in a stable condition, and has been under probe by relevant authorities," according to the JCS, adding no other unusual movements by the North Korean military regarding this case have been detected.
The teenage private is the first North Korean servicemember to escape his communist homeland since 2012 when a North Korean enlistee crossed the eastern border in Goseong and knocked on the door of a South Korean barrack for defection.
North Koreans, many of whom are civilians, usually cross the relatively porous border with China first and then try to head to South Korea, often through Southeast Asian nations. In 2014 alone, 1,396 North Koreans defected here, according to government data.