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North Korean Soldier Successfully Defects Across DMZ

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In a rare feat, a North Korean soldier successfully defected to South Korea by crossing the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two countries.

The soldier bolted from his post at the DMZ-centered Panmunjom village and made a break for it across the 2.5-mile wide strip of land that has served as a border since 1953, when two Koreas agreed upon an armistice but not a peace treaty, reports The Guardian.

Around 30,000 North Koreans have defected since 1953, the majority of whom have been women. Most cross into China and then a third country before entering South Korea.

Defections at the DMZ are particularly unusual given the danger of crossing and intense vetting process it takes to patrol the border. Much of the DMZ is surrounded by sharp fences, hundreds of thousands of soldiers and over 1 million land mines. Other areas -- such as the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom - - are surrounded by soldiers of both countries. Patrolling soldiers are chosen based on their loyalty to North Korea and are positioned within a few feet of one another.

The unarmed defector was shot at by other North Korean troops. He was wounded in the shoulder and elbow, according to South Korea's defense ministry.

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South Korean forces found him around 150 feet south of Panmunjom's border. He was flown to a South Korean hospital by a United Nations helicopter. There were no gunshots, though a U.N. official said they had to "crawl towards there to get him out" because the area was exposed to the North.

It is not known why the soldier chose to defect. North Korea has not yet demanded his return, though if it were, it would likely ignite further tensions over the country's nuclear program, The Guardian reports.

A South Korean military official said they were "increasing alertness" in the wake of the defection.

In a presumably unrelated incident, a U.S. citizen also attempted to cross the border, Stars and Stripes reports.

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The man was stopped by South Korean forces after crossing the Civilian Control Line, which lies just below the DMZ, without a permit. He has been identified only as "A."

South Korean officials initially believed the man was trying to cross for political reasons, but later determined that he had no communist affiliations.

A U.S. Embassy official issued an anonymous comment to Stars and Stripes: "If it is determined that a U.S. citizen has been detained, the embassy will provide appropriate consular services. Privacy concerns prevent us from sharing information on individual cases."

Sources: The Guardian, CBS News, Stars and Stripes / Featured Image: Chuckupd/Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: Uri Tours/Flickr, yeowatzup/Flickr

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