SEOUL — The defection of a North Korean soldier into South Korea could further complicate efforts to repatriate the body of another soldier found dead almost two months ago just south of the Demilitarized Zone.
United Nations Command officials have been trying unsuccessfully for more than a month to coordinate the return of the remains of a North Korean army private, believed to be in his late teens or early 20s, whose body was pulled Aug. 23 from flood gates on the Hantan River less than two miles south of the Military Demarcation Line that divides the two Koreas.
U.S. Forces Korea officials have been reluctant to blame the North for the delay in the repatriation, pointing out that as many as a half-dozen organizations are involved in such ceremonies and coordinating schedules is sometimes challenging.
Asked how Saturday’s defection might impact those efforts, USFK spokesman Jennifer Buschick said Thursday a date for the repatriation still has yet to be set, adding there is nothing new to say about the situation.
News reports say the soldier crossed the DMZ and surrendered, saying he fatally shot his platoon and squad leaders before defecting. South Korean media have reported he became the third North Korean soldier to defect across the DMZ this year.
Officials with the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said the soldier is being held in “government protection” while the case is investigated and the soldier is questioned.
Officials say remains of North Koreans are found south of the border an average of once or twice a year. If they are soldiers, their bodies are returned in repatriation ceremonies. If they are civilians, Red Cross officials from both Koreas handle the transfer.