HYUN-JIN KIM and KIM TON-HYUN (Associated Press)
SEOUL, South Korea (FloridaToday.news) — An American has crossed the heavily fortified border between South Korea and North Korea, the US-led UN command monitoring the area said Tuesday, amid escalating tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program.
The UN command tweeted that a US citizen was on a trip to the Korean border village of Phanmunjom and crossed the border north without permission.
It says that he is currently in the custody of North Korea and that the UN command is working with their North Korean counterparts to resolve the incident.
Details about who this person is and why he crossed the border are not reported.
Cases of Americans or South Koreans fleeing to North Korea are rare, although over 30,000 North Koreans fled to South Korea to escape political oppression and economic hardship at home after the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Panmunjom, located inside the 248 kilometers (154 miles) demilitarized zone, was established at the end of the Korean War. From time to time there was bloodshed and shootings, but it was also a place for many conversations and a popular tourist destination.
The area is under joint control of the United Nations and North Korea. There are no civilians in Panmunjom.
In November 2017, North Korean soldiers fired 40 shots as one of their colleagues raced to freedom. The soldier was hit five times before being found under a pile of leaves on the south side of Panmunjom. He survived and is now in South Korea.
There were a small number of American soldiers who fled to North Korea during the Cold War, including Charles Jenkins, who left his army post in South Korea in 1965 and fled through the DMZ. He starred in North Korean propaganda films and married a Japanese nurse student who was kidnapped by North Korean agents. He died in Japan in 2017.
In recent years, some Americans have been arrested in North Korea after allegedly entering the country from China. They were later convicted of espionage and other anti-state activities, but were often released after high-level missions were sent by the US to secure their freedom.
In 2018, North Korea released the last three known American prisoners as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un engaged in nuclear diplomacy with then President Donald Trump. High-stakes diplomacy collapsed in 2019 amid wrangling over US sanctions against North Korea.
The border crossing on Tuesday came amid high tensions over North Korea’s massive missile tests since early last year. Earlier Tuesday, the United States sent a nuclear submarine to South Korea for the first time in decades as a deterrent against North Korea.