South Korean guards fired warning shots at soldiers from North Korea Thursday who crossed the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in search of a defector.
Described only as “low-ranking,” the defector was detected by South Korean surveillance at around 8 a.m. as he ran across the DMZ’s northwestern section.
North Korean soldiers, who appeared to be looking for the defector, crossed over the DMZ approximately one hour later. South Korean guards responded by firing 20 warning shots, forcing the North Koreans to stop before crossing back into the northern side.
The South Korean government stated that one hour after, at around 10 a.m., two rounds of gunfire could be heard coming from the North – although there was no indication the shots were aimed at the South.
Details on the defector, including a name, rank or possible injuries, have been withheld thus far by South Korean authorities. According to the South’s defense officials, an investigation is ongoing into the incident.
Thursday’s defection, the fourth from North Korea’s armed forces at the DMZ this year, follows the dramatic defection last month of a soldier who was shot multiple times during his escape.
Prior to 2017, only four North Korean soldiers had defected between 2012 and 2016. While experts are hesitant to draw conclusions, a combination of North Korea’s harsh winters in addition to mounting sanctions could partly explain the uptick.
The latest defection comes amid escalating tensions between North Korea and the United States over Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear weapons programs.
A report Wednesday from The Telegraph stated the Trump administration has “dramatically” stepped up preparation for a preemptive military attack on North Korea in an attempt to force the regime to the negotiating table.
North Korea experts warn that such a move vastly underestimates Pyongyang’s willingness to retaliate against South Korea, Japan and potentially the United States.