Military Admits Lies and Lapses Over Defection

A North Korean soldier who crossed 4 km of heavily armed border to defect to South Korea on Oct. 2 had to knock on the door of barracks to draw attention to himself, it was revealed Wednesday.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff previously claimed that while neither the observation post nor a guard post further north noticed the soldier, he was picked up by a surveillance camera.

The frontline unit even sent a false report to the JCS. Disciplinary actions are expected against the unit and its officers in the line of command.

A JCS team was unable to find the exact point where the soldier climbed through the barbed-wire fence although it has been investigating the case since Sunday.

◆ Erased Videotape?

A JCS officer said Wednesday the defector knocked on the door at barracks of the guard post and soldiers went out and took him into custody. About 40 South Korean soldiers live in the barracks.

The North Korean soldier climbed through barbed-wire and electric fences north of the military demarcation line around 8 p.m. on Oct. 2, then crossed the DMZ, and climbed through another 3-4 m tall wire fence south of the MDL around 10:30 p.m. He then walked up to the barracks guided only by a gleam of light. The shortest distance from the wire fences to the barracks is about 10 m.

In a National Assembly audit Monday, JCS chairman Gen. Jung Seung-jo claimed, "A soldier on duty in the situation room spotted a North Korean soldier approaching the barracks on a surveillance monitor, alerted the sentry on duty at the guard post, and soldiers took the North Korean soldier into custody."

But the South Korean soldiers were in fact completely unaware of the defector until he knocked on the door.

"The JCS was at first informed by the frontline unit that the defector had been spotted by a surveillance monitor," a JCS officer said. "We're now trying to find out" why the unit gave a false report.

A surveillance camera is installed above the door of the barracks. Another military officer hinted at the possibility that nothing was recorded on the videotape, adding that it is still unknown whether the surveillance camera was functioning at all.

Asked if the military erased the videotape intentionally for fear of ramifications, the JCS officer said, "We are still investigating that."

◆ Tardy Reaction

But not only did the frontline unit give a false report, the JCS sent the investigation team to the unit only Sunday, five days after the defector crossed the DMZ. It put the lid on the scandal until lawmakers raised questions during the audit Monday.

That means all levels concerned from the platoon to the JCS covered facts up. It is not certain that this is the end of the embarrassing revelations.

"The fact that a North Korean soldier walked up to the barracks of the guard post after climbing through barbed-wire fences in the DMZ means that defense of Seoul was almost in tatters," an officer lamented.

Investigators are still trying to find out the exact point where the defector climbed through the barbed-wire fences. The JCS officer said, "Fact-finding is being delayed because he crossed the DMZ under cover of night."

englishnews@chosun.com / Oct. 11, 2012 10:02 KST