Defecting N.Korean Soldiers Expose Weakness in Border Defense

News of several North Korean soldiers defecting to the South recently are raising concerns about serious flaws in South Korea's border defense.

Last Tuesday, another North Korean soldier defected over the heavily armed border, but South Korean troops were unaware of his movements until he had reached their observation post, Democratic United Party lawmaker Kim Kwang-jin of the National Assembly's Defense Committee revealed Monday.

He was one of three soldiers to defect to the South since the death of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Kim said that he confirmed the defection with a high-ranking officer at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The JCS said the North Korean soldier was spotted on a surveillance camera screen when he stood in front of an observation post at a military base along the demilitarized zone, and was soon arrested.

South Korean soldiers patrol in the demilitarized zone in Hwacheon, Gangwon Province. South Korean soldiers patrol in the demilitarized zone in Hwacheon, Gangwon Province.

The military has set up barbed-wire fences 2 km away from the military demarcation line and guard posts between the fences and the border. The defector was apparently able to walk past the guard posts, through the barbed-wire fences and arrive at the observation post undetected.

The military base the soldier defected to was even on heightened alert at the time following a reported sighting of a North Korean submarine off the coast of Gangneung, Gnagwon Province. "At that time, we received a report that a North Korean soldier wished to defect and did not take steps to raise the alert further," said JCS chairman Jung Seung-jo.

But lawmaker Kim said South Korean troops could have been harmed if the defector had been carrying hand grenades or other weapons. Jung admitted that the military committed a "major error."

On Saturday a 17-year-old soldier defected across the border after shooting and killing two senior officers. On Aug. 17, a North Korean soldier signaled his wish to defect by waving a white flag, prompting South Korean troops at an observation post to guide him to the southern side of the border.

"The string of defections by North Korean soldiers may stem from declining morale, but the incidents also demonstrated defects in South Korean defenses," Kim said.

englishnews@chosun.com / Oct. 09, 2012 10:42 KST