Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Defection?

The South Korean Defense Ministry claims that a South Korean has cut through 3 fences along the DMZ and defected to North Korea. But not everyone in South Korea believes this story:

Harsh disciplinary measures are expected to follow the Defense Ministry's conclusion Tuesday that an unidentified South Korean defected to North Korea by cutting through three fences in the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone.

Military observers said the ministry would likely soon form a disciplinary board to determine the level of punishment, which could affect key officers in the Fifth Army Division which failed in its duty of guarding the border.

At the same time, military officials and many civilians remained puzzled over the Defense Ministry's report on the unprecedented event.

The ministry said that because the footprints and the cuts through the fences indicated movement from South to North, and because of the clumsy way the fences had been cut, a joint investigation concluded that the three holes were made by a person defecting from the South to the North.

However the ministry has refused to release photos of the fences, which has contributed to the snowballing doubts about the official explanation.

"I sympathize with the media reports today, questioning the validity of a civilian defection," an Army officer said yesterday on the condition of anonymity.

He said the defense posture along the southern border area is relatively strong, though the Army cannot position soldiers along every bit of the 248-kilometer (154-mile) DMZ.

The border is protected by two-member patrols that guard against possible intrusion from guard posts located every 400 meters along the border fences. The teams change their positions about every 90 minutes.

The Army has also positioned thermal detectors in some areas to detect moving objects with thermal characteristics.

Some of the fences have rocks stuck into gaps, so that if the fence is bumped they will be dislodged and show possible intrusion. There are no electric fences, however.

Many said it would be nearly impossible for a civilian to sneak through the mountainous frontlines and across the mine-infested 4-kilometer-wide border area without being noticed by South Korean troops patrolling the border.

A military officer said if he were the defector, he would reach the North by visiting a North Korean Embassy in a third country instead of trying to cross the DMZ. "Did he have no money to travel to a third country?" he asked.

North Korea has yet to respond to the South Korean claim, which is seen here as strange, considering Pyongyang's past practice. The North used to use any defection to the North for propaganda to tout its socialism regime.

Brig. Gen. Hwang Jung-sun, a top operations officer at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Tuesday asked the public to trust the ministry report. He said defense officials see very little possibility of a North Koran intrusion.

The appeal, however, has failed to satisfy the public. The Defense Ministry's homepage has been bombarded with angry responses.

Netizens, especially former soldiers who performed mandatory military service in the border area, called for severe punishment for the security lapse.

"How can the ministry possibly defend against North Korean attacks when it failed to detect even a civilian defecting to the North through the border," said one man, who said he was discharged from his mandatory military service last year.

Another man indicated it was implausible that a civilian could have defected across the heavily-mined border. "Even scout teams take the same routes for fear of mines when they go on patrol in the DMZ. The military is writing a fiction," he said.


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