North Korean soldiers advanced to the south through the demilitarized zone

The South Korean military detained a North Korean soldier who crossed the heavily fortified demilitarised zone that separates the two countries, according to the South’s joint chiefs of staff (JSC).

The soldier expressed his intention to defect to South Korea, the JSC said on Thursday.

The unidentified active-duty soldier was first detected by thermal imaging equipment moving south near the Imjin river late on Wednesday and South Korean troops took him into custody just before midnight.

Also on Wednesday the South Korean military recovered a body near the DMZ suspected to be that of a North Korean civilian, a spokesman for South Korea’s defence ministry said.

Clad in military-type pants and a belt, the body was found in the Imjin river and appeared to have been dead for at least two weeks, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

South Korea returned three North Koreans on Monday who had crossed the maritime border on a fishing vessel. Officials from the South said they thought the fishermen may have wanted to defect but the men chose to return to North Korea.

Hundreds of North Koreans make their way to South Korea each year hoping to defect but unauthorised crossings of the DMZ are rare. The zone is dotted with landmines, fences, guard posts and other military equipment on both sides of the border.

The last defection by a North Korean soldier across the DMZ was in November 2018. In November 2017 a North Korean soldier was shot multiple times by fellow soldiers as he fled across the border into South Korea where he was treated by doctors.

Another North Korean soldier crossed the border to defect a few weeks later in an incident that led to South Korean guards firing warning shots into North Korea.

North and South Korea agreed in 2018 to try to reduce tensions along their border by reducing the number of landmines and guard posts, disarming their guards at a truce village and imposing a no-fly zone.

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