One month ago, when a North Korean soldier fled through the ultra-high security Demilitarized Zone amid a hail of gunfire from his comrades, he arrived in South Korea severely wounded. But Thursday, when another soldier of the communist dictatorship made a run for freedom, no shots were fired by North Korea’s elite guards.
Could the world be witnessing a repeat of 1989, when East Germans began crossing the border into Hungary and then to freedom in Austria, leading to the collapse of Eastern European communist regimes and, eventually, the Soviet Union?
That’s a question American Spectator writer and blogger Don Surber is posing amid other major developments that threaten the third generation of the Kim dynasty.
In October, a defense source said a unit of U.S. special forces tasked with carrying out “decapitation” operations against the Kim regime may be aboard a nuclear-powered submarine docked in the South Korean port of Busan, the Telegraph reported at the time.
The U.S. Navy insisted the USS Michigan, known for carrying special-ops teams, was docked in a “routine port visit,” and the U.S. military also denied training for decapitation missions or regime change. But the presence of what appeared to be silos for tiny submarines used to transport Navy SEALs for their most covert missions increased speculation.
The Yonhap news agency reported the defection of the North Korean soldier early Thursday is being being investigated by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was the fourth defection across the DMZ this year. Last month, North Korean soldier Oh Chong Song, 24, was shot in his knee, arm, back, chest and through his shoulder. Surgeons also found that his body was riddled with parasites and Hepatitis B, which was seen as an indication of the poor state of the economy.
The Wall Street Journal reported North Korean soldiers crossed into South Korea Thursday in pursuit of their missing comrade – about one hour after he escaped – and were forced to turn back when South Korean guards fired warning shots. There was no immediate reaction from North Korea through its state media.
The Journal noted that the dash across the DMZ isn’t a typical method of escape. Most seeking freedom from Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship cross into China. Often they then seek to cross into Mongolia or a Southeast Asian country, where they make themselves known to South Korean officials.
Nam Sung-wook, a professor studying North Korea’s economy at Korea University, told the Journal the recent increase in North Korean fishing boats washing ashore, combined with defections across the DMZ, support the notion that international sanctions in response to Pyongyang’s weapons program are beginning to work.
“Winters are always tough in North Korea” due to shortages of food and heating, he said.
“The most important thing to us would be securing those nuclear weapons they’ve already developed and ensuring that they – that nothing falls into the hands of people we would not want to have it,” Tillerson said.