The Joint Chiefs of Staff, or JCS, said it
carried out a search operation after detecting the person around 9:20 pm (1220
GMT) on Saturday on the eastern side of the Demilitarised Zone, or DMZ,
separating the two Koreas.
“We’ve confirmed that the person crossed
the Military Demarcation Line border about 10:40 pm (1340 GMT) and defected to
the North,” the JCS said.
The JCS said it could not confirm whether the
person was alive, but sent a notice to the North via a military hotline asking
The border crossing, which is illegal in South
Korea, came as North Korea carries out strict anti-coronavirus measures since
shutting borders in early 2020, though it has not confirmed any infections.
A public and political uproar emerged after
North Korean troops shot dead a South Korean fisheries official who went
missing at sea in September 2020, for which Pyongyang blamed anti-virus rules
Two months earlier, North Korean leader Kim
Jong Un declared a national emergency and sealed off a border town after a
North Korean defector who he said had COVID-19 symptoms illegally crossed the
border into the North from the South.
The North’s prolonged lockdowns and
restrictions on inter-provincial movement have also pushed the number of North
Korean defectors arriving in the South to an all-time low.
Cross-border relations soured after
denuclearisation negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington stalled since a
failed summit in 2019.
South Korea and a US-led UN force are
technically still at war with North Korea since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended
in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.