A US soldier who crossed the demilitarized zone (DMZ) from South Korea into North Korea and was arrested ran to the border and gave a loud “ha ha ha,” the witness said.
The soldier was part of a group visiting the Joint Security Area – a border village in the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas, which is heavily guarded by soldiers from both sides.
In a statement issued by the United Nations, “A US citizen who was en route to the JSA (Joint Security Area) crossed into the Democratic Republic of the Republic of Korea (DPRK) military border without authorization.”
The American citizen is believed to be currently in custody in the North, the officials said.
U.S. officials later confirmed that the man was believed to be a member of the U.S. service and under the control of North Korean forces.
A U.S. official told CBS News that the service member was returning to the U.S. following disciplinary issues, but was able to rejoin the border after passing through airport security.
Local press reported that a foreign national crossed the border between 3:27am local time – 2.27am ET.
We saw what happened, and a person who said he was participating in the tour with the US military told CBS that he visited one of the buildings in the area and saw “this guy giving a loud ‘ha ha ha’ and just walking between some buildings.”
“At first I thought it was a bad joke, but when it didn’t come back, I realized it wasn’t a joke, then everyone reacted and things got crazy,” he told the newspaper.
The witness told the network that it was impossible to see the North Korean soldier that the man ran into, and that they had been told that nothing had been found since the outbreak when North Korea tried to completely close its border.
After the witness crossed the border, the tour group was taken to Freedom House and taken to a bus to give a statement.
“I’m telling you this because I’m really hurt,” the witness told CBS News. “We were on the way back on the bus, and we got to one of the checkpoints… someone said that we entered 43 and we were going back to 42.”
One of the most heavily fortified areas in the world, the DMZ is filled with explosives and surrounded by electric and barbed wire fences and surveillance cameras.
Although cases of Americans or South Koreans defecting to the North are rare, more than 30,000 North Koreans are believed to have crossed the border into the South since the 1950s.
Washington has banned US citizens from entering North Korea “because of the continuing high levels of detention and long-term detention of US citizens”.
“The U.S. government does not have diplomatic or consular relations with North Korea and is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in North Korea,” the North Korean travel advisory reads.
The ban was implemented by American college student Otto Warmbier.
Panmunjom is a 248 km long demilitarized zone created in 1953 at the end of the Korean War. The area has become a forum for many talks and is a popular tourist destination.
In the year In November 2017, North Korean soldiers fired 40 rounds at one of their comrades running south. The soldier was hit five times and rescued from a pile of leaves on the southern side of Panmunjom. It is now in South Korea.
Former US President Donald Trump met with his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un in DMS in June 2019.
The arrest comes amid heightened tensions between the US and the North, as Pyongyang rushes to fulfill its nuclear ambitions.
Washington deployed a nuclear-armed submarine to its ally South Korea for the first time in 40 years when officials from the two countries met in Seoul to discuss strengthening their countries’ deterrence against the North.
The Ohio-class submarine USS Kentucky arrived at the port of Busan on Tuesday afternoon, the South’s Ministry of Defense announced. It was the first visit by a US nuclear-armed submarine to the South since the 1980s, he added.
Regular visits by US nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarines to the South is one of the agreements the two countries reached in April. They agreed to establish a bilateral nuclear advisory group and expand military exercises.