A “low-ranking” North Korean soldier defected to South Korea early Thursday morning across the demilitarized zone between the two countries, South Korea said.
It is the second defection across the heavily guarded border in less than two months, after another North Korean soldier was shot multiple times while dramatically escaping to the south on Nov. 13.
An official from the South Korean Ministry of Defense official said the soldier was in custody and authorities would investigate the reason for the defection. He crossed the border just after 8:00 a.m. local time, the country’s military said.
Earlier, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said there were no shots fired during the defection nor was any unusual movement of North Korean troops detected. However, later it said that South Korea soldiers fired 20 warning shots at around 9:30 a.m. as North Korean soldiers searched for the defector.
It added that several gunshots were heard from the northern side of the border at 10:13 a.m. and 10:16 a.m.
In total, four members of the North Korean military have defected to South Korea since the beginning of 2017, including two in June.
Prior to this year, there had only been four defections from North Korea’s armed forces in the past five years: one in 2016, one in 2015 and two in 2012.
The most high profile was in November when a North Korean defector, named Oh Chong Song, was shot multiple times after driving to the border in a jeep.
While attempting to pursue Oh, North Korean soldiers fired across the demilitarized zone, violating the Korean War armistice.
The North Korean military has more than 1.2 million active soldiers and a further 7.7 million in reserves. It is one of the largest ground forces in the world.