Military Under Fire After Man Defects to N.Korea

      October 29, 2009 09:20

      The military is under a hail of criticism over a man's flight to North Korea on Monday through a stretch of border guarded by the 22nd Division in Goseong, Gangwon Province. This is the same area where an unidentified man defected to North Korea in September 1996.

      The Joint Chiefs of Staff on Wednesday dispatched a team to investigate the incident, check the preparedness of soldiers and to find out whether they were guilty of negligence.

      ◆ Military Could Have Known Earlier

      What the JCS has found out so far is that a man appears to have defected to North Korea, judging by the direction of the hole cut through the border fence, and that the military found out about the breach only after hearing about it through the North Korean media. "It's unheard-of for a breach in the fence to remain undetected for more than a day, since the fences are patrolled 24 hours a day," said one military officer.

      Yet if the man, identified as Kang Tong-rim, defected to North Korea through the military demarcation line on Monday as the North Korean broadcast says, this means that South Korean patrols failed to find the breach for a whole day. "This is impossible," the officer said.

      That would suggest that soldiers discovered the breach not an hour after the North Korean broadcast but at a much earlier point but did not report it for fear of punishment. The military intends to investigate the possibility.

      ◆ Slack Discipline

      Kang strolled past a checkpoint that keeps civilians from reaching the border area some 10 km from the military demarcation line, cut through the fence and entered the demilitarized zone, which is strewn with land mines. The military completely failed to detect or deter Kang from moving through the area.

      After embarrassing breaches of the border fence in 2004 and 2005, the military set up thermal detection devices along the border. The area guarded by the 22nd Division was using the devices, but they failed to detect Kang and their utility is now in question. There have been three breaches of the border fence so far -- in 1996, 2004 and 2005.

      ◆ Border Protection

      In border surveillance, one platoon usually handles a 1-1.5 km stretch of the fence. During the day, the fence is guarded from an observation post with a clear view by a two-man team. At night, the size of the patrols is adjusted according to the situation. Wedged between the links on the fence are rocks or cans so that any movement makes a noise.

      "The distances between observation points vary from 30 m to 300 m, but 1-1.5 km stretches are monitored during the day and 400-500 m stretches are monitored at night," said a Defense Ministry official. "The problem is that depending on the area, the fence could be located along deep ravines that create blind spots."

      To deal with such problems, the ministry is seeking to install sensors on the fences, in which case soldiers will no longer have to patrol the fence on foot but check for potential breaches on monitors at a surveillance center further back. The system was tested by the Fifth Division, but the results are said to have been less than satisfactory. "Machines can only augment what people can do," said on officer. "The only solution is for our sentries to be more alert."

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