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South Korean military report faults border guards for overlooking North Korean defector

A North Korean defector was picked up in Goseong, South Korea, Feb. 16, 2021, after reportedly entering the country through an unguarded drainpipe.

ROBERT H. REID/STARS AND STRIPES

By JOSEPH DITZLER AND YOO KYONG CHANG | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 23, 2021

South Korean troops failed to spot a North Korea man captured on surveillance cameras last week after he swam ashore and entered the country through an unguarded drainpipe, according to a report in local media Tuesday.

The man, who swam the East Sea in a diving suit early Feb. 16, was missed eight of 10 times he showed up on military cameras on the south side of the Demilitarized Zone, according to the Yonhap News Agency.

The report cited a weeklong investigation and a briefing Tuesday by the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff. A spokesman for the Joint Chiefs declined to provide Stars and Stripes with a transcript of the briefing.

After his capture, the man told South Korean authorities he wanted to defect, according to Yonhap. He swam to an observatory on the east coast and at 1:05 a.m. passed through the drainage pipe beneath barbed wire along the shore.

Cameras detected his presence five times between his arrival on shore and 1:38 a.m., according to the report. Two alarms sounded but no actions were taken.

The pipe’s existence, and two others, were unknown to the military prior to the incident, Yonhap reported.

Cameras caught the man three more times around 4 a.m., but no alarm sounded, and he continued south.

He went undetected until 4:16 a.m. when guards spotted him on a surveillance camera and started a search. He was taken into custody three hours later inside the civilian control line in a zone controlled by the military.

He was picked up near the town of Goseong, according to previous reports.

“Service members in charge of the guard duty failed to abide by due procedures and failed to detect the unidentified man,” the Joint Chiefs said.

The Joint Chiefs vowed to tighten troop discipline and improve the border surveillance system, according to Yonhap.

ditzler.joseph@stripes.com
Twitter: @JosephDitzler

chang.kyong@stripes.com