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N. Korean soldier defects to South as Trump hopes for second summit early next year

New guard post on the North Korean side of the Joint Security Area. Saturday’s escape occurred after both Koreas demolished front-line guard posts and swept for mines in a section of the Demilitarized Zone as part of an ambitious plan to disarm the area.

COURTESY OF SOUTH KOREA'S DEFENSE MINISTRY

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 1, 2018

SEOUL, South Korea – A North Korean soldier fled across the heavily fortified frontier Saturday, the military said, a rare escape that presents the first test of recent military tension-reduction measures by the two adversaries.

On the diplomatic front, President Donald Trump said a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is likely to be held in January or February and three sites are being considered for the meeting. He didn’t name the sites.

Trump and Kim agreed to work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” during their first meeting on June 12 in Singapore. But negotiations over details and conflicting demands have stalled.

South Korean troops guided the North Korean defector to safety after surveillance equipment detected him crossing an eastern section of the so-called Military Demarcation Line that bisects the peninsula, the military said in a text message.

The military said no unusual North Korean activity was reported on Saturday.

The military said it will question the soldier about how he escaped across the border, a 2.5-mile wide, 155-mile long buffer zone that’s lined with barbed wire and filled with land mines.

The defection came just over a year after another North Korean soldier dashed across the border in the truce village of Panmunjom under a hail of gunfire from his former comrades.

More than 30,000 North Koreans have fled to the South since the 1950-53 war on the peninsula ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty. But most fled via China and other countries to avoid heavy border security.

Saturday’s escape occurred after both sides demolished front-line guard posts and swept for mines in a section of the Demilitarized Zone as part of an ambitious plan to disarm the area.

The Koreas reached the military agreement during the third summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in as part of a diplomatic offensive that began earlier this year, reversing months of rising tensions that had threatened to erupt in a nuclear war.

Trump has remained optimistic but has insisted economic sanctions and other U.S.-led efforts to pressure the communist state into giving up its nuclear weapons will continue until concrete progress is made.

“We’re getting along very well. We have a good relationship,” he told reporters Saturday aboard Air Force One en route home from a G20 summit in Argentina.

He also said he’d like to invite Kim to the United States at some point.

The president also discussed North Korea with his South Korean and Chinese counterparts on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in renewed their commitment “to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization” of the North and agreed on the need to maintain economic sanctions “to ensure (North Korea) understands that denuclearization is the only path.”

Moon’s office said that Trump also gave the green light for Kim to visit Seoul, saying the two leaders agreed that would “provide additional momentum to their joint efforts to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

The North Korean leader said he would visit Seoul “in the near future,” during his third summit with Moon in September. The South Koreans have expressed hope the visit – which would be a first for a North Korean leader – could happen by the end of this year.

gamel.kim@stripes.com

Twitter: @kimgamel
 

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