A former North Korean gymnast claims he leaped over an nearly 10-foot-high barbed-wire fence to defect to the safety of the South, according to reports.
A North Korean man seeking to escape his homeland took a almost 10-foot leap of faith earlier this month.
The defector, said to be a civilian, was described as having a slight, athletic build, and the Herald said the authorities made him display his jumping abilities to prove he had vaulted the fence and not simply climbed over.
The audacious defection sparked alarm that the high security demilitarised zone (DMZ) that separates North from South had been successfully crossed. North Koreans in hot pursuit wounded him a number of times, but he was finally rescued by South Korean soldiers and medevacked to a hospital where expert surgery saved him.
Thermal imaging cameras captured the man lingering near the border in the demilitarized zone between the rival nations as early as November 2, United Press International reported. The latest defector was picked up by South Korean soldiers about a mile south of the demilitarized zone.
Although more than 32,000 North Koreans are said to have defected to the South over the years, nearly all of them do so by crossing the Tumen or Yalu rivers between North Korea and China, then escaping the Chinese police and making their way to the South often with the help of highly paid "brokers" who bribe North Korean border guards. Authorities say his light body weight and gymnastics skills may have aided his escape.
According to local media, the fence looked pressed down but "didn't appear to have been modified or cut".
The lack of opportunities for Choi, who said he was a medical doctor in North Korea, forced him to rethink his sense of belonging in the South. Choi immigrated to Britain in 2008, according to the report. The revelation came during an investigation into the incident, South Korean media quoted military officials as saying on Monday.
Seoul previously vowed to strengthen surveillance along the border with their communist neighbor following other security breaches, the news agency said. In June 2019, a boat carrying four North Koreans arrived in the town of Samcheok in South Korea without being detected.
South Korean soldiers patrol along barbed wired fences in the DMZ in April. A dramatic escape by another North Korean soldier grabbed headlines around the world in 2017, when he drove an army truck through the border amid a hail of gunfire from his fellow soldiers.
Few defectors take the unsafe option of trying to break through the zone, with most of the 33,000 who have fled North Korea since the 1990s opting for risky but more achievable routes through China, arriving in the South via a third country, normally Thailand.
The South Korean phone calls to the North so far have gone unanswered, according to the report. Relations have soured further since the collapse of denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington a year ago.
In September, North Korean troops shot to death a South Korean fisheries official who mistakenly drifted into the North's territorial waters. North Korean blamed Seoul, sayingthe killing was due to their "improper control" of a citizen.