More and More North Koreans Defect

David Lee, July 3, 2017, 8:09 a.m.


Five North Koreans fled to South Korea in a small boat on Saturday afternoon by crossing the de-facto maritime border in the East Sea, a government official here said on Sunday. The coast guard sent a ship to rescue them in remote waters northeast of Gangneung, Gangwon Province and escorted the boat carrying four men and one woman to South Korean waters. All aboard said they do not want to go back. But a Unification Ministry official said further questioning is needed to make sure that they really want to defect.

In the past, North Koreans fishermen have often drifted into South Korean waters by mistake and asked to return to their home country. The latest escape is one of a rash of recent defections. In early June, two of a four-man North Korean crew rescued in the East Sea decided to stay here, and two North Korean soldiers crossed the military demarcation line on June 13 and 23. On June 18, a North Korean man in his 20s swam down the Han River to Gimpo.

A security official here said the surge is unprecedented. "Many people seem to have decided to flee because the regime is forcing fishermen to meet steep quotas and because food shortages get worse at this time of year," he said.

Morale among ordinary soldiers appears to be at an all-time low as leader Kim Jong-un pours all of the country's meager resources into his missile and nuclear programs. That makes them more vulnerable to South Korean propaganda being blasted by loudspeaker across the demilitarized zone. "Our propaganda broadcasts... seem to have touched a nerve with a new generation of North Korean soldiers," the official speculated.

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