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A man who defected to the North mistaken by S. Korea

Posted January. 05, 2022 08:00,   

Updated January. 05, 2022 08:00


When a South Korean citizen, who had previously defected to the South, crossed the heavily fortified border to defect back to the North on Saturday, the 22nd Infantry Division mistook the man for a defecting North Korean man and reported it to the South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae. A misjudgment made by a front-line military division was reported to the top decision-making authorities, leading to a missed opportunity to respond to an emergency.

According to a South Korean government source on Tuesday, the front-line military division detected a man around 9:20 p.m. on Saturday near a guard post (GP) in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) using a thermal observation device (TOD). It was after the man climbed the general outpost (GOP) fence and already headed about 1 kilometer north. At that time, the military thought, without much suspicion, that the man, who was only hundreds of meters away from the military demarcation line (MDL), was a defecting North Korean man. Such information was reported to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and Cheong Wa Dae’s crisis management center after 9:30 p.m. The crisis management center under the Office of National Security serves as a control tower that manages situations of national crisis in a systematic and prompt manner.

Eventually, the misjudgment of the 22nd Infantry Division resulted in failure to arrest the man. Even though the man climbing the GOP fence at around 6:40 p.m. was captured clearly by security cameras, the military was late to replay the footage.

“In the event of a crisis, a report is made in real-time to the crisis management center,” said the government source. “It is the job of JCS to command operations based on the report of front-line divisions,” said the source, indicating that both the front-line military division and JCS are responsible for the failure of operation.

An on-site investigation by JCS’ Combat Readiness Inspection Office, which was completed on Tuesday, found that the man was caught several times by security cameras when he approached and hovered around the fence. Footprints were also clearly marked near the fence but the military division missed all pre and post signs of crisis.

Kyu-Jin Shin newjin@donga.com