A teenage North Korean soldier who defected after killing two of his superiors and crossing the heavily armed border to South Korea on Saturday has told interrogators he did it because he saw "no hope" in the North.
Investigators quoted the soldier as saying he learned of the huge gap between the two Koreas through the joint-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex. He worked at a frontline guard post within the Joint Security Area where North Korean soldiers oversee and control transaction of goods and workers commuting to the Kaesong complex.
A government source on Sunday said, "The primary reason for the soldier's defection is that he realized the vast gap between North and South." The motives for the killing of the two officers are still being investigated. The soldier is reportedly 17 years old.
The source added, "The North Korean regime stations hand-picked troops at border guard posts in [the truce village of] Panmunjom and the Kaesong Industrial Complex for fear of defections or ideological contamination, so this shows that discipline in the North Korean military is weakening."
Over the last 10 years, only five North Korean soldiers defected across the military demarcation line, and it is extremely rare for men to kill their superior officers.
An informed source pointed out that the defection comes amid North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's plan to seize control of the military, which has become a state within the state. Kim purged army chief Ri Yong-ho in July and took moneymaking businesses out of military control and handed them over to the Cabinet.
"This blow should be as damaging to Kim as the failed rocket launch" in April, the source added.
Meanwhile, the North's official KCNA news agency on Sunday said that Kim told intelligence officers, "We should mercilessly crush impure elements in society who dream of something different." It is unclear whether he was incensed by the defection or merely spouting standard rhetoric.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff said South Korean personnel heard six shots being fired from the North in the area where the soldier defected. South Korean guards there saw the soldier running down the street after crossing the military demarcation line. They addressed him by loudhailer and established that he was trying to defect.
The teenager told them he shot and killed his platoon leader and squad leader, threw away the gun and ran.
North Korean soldiers were later spotted gathering the two bodies. The South and North Korean guard posts in the area in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, are only 500 m apart.
There was no conflict between the two sides during the course of defection, and the South Korean military reported no unusual movements from the North.