American detained by North Korea after crossing border, UN says – National


A U.S. national is believed to be detained by North Korea after crossing the border from South Korea during a tour of the Demilitarized Zone, the United Nations Command stated.

The American was participating in a tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA) when they crossed the Military Demarcation Line separating North and South Korea.

“A U.S. National on a JSA orientation tour crossed, without authorization, the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). We believe he is currently in DPRK custody and are working with our KPA counterparts to resolve this incident,” the United Nations Command tweeted on Tuesday.

The KPA, or the Korean People’s Army, is the military arm of North Korea. Tours of the JSA, which is located inside the Demilitarized Zone, are open to the public and administered by the United Nations.

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The identity of the U.S. national, and the reason why they crossed the border, have not yet been released by official sources.

CNN and CBS News reported that the man is believed to be a U.S. soldier, citing unnamed U.S. officials.

The soldier in question was being escorted back to the U.S. for disciplinary reasons, CBS reported. He went through airport security but somehow managed to leave the airport and join the border tour.

A person who was on the tour at the time said they witnessed the moment the man ran across the border.

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“This man gives out a loud ‘ha ha ha,’ and just runs in between some buildings,” the witness told CBS. “I thought it was a bad joke at first, but when he didn’t come back, I realized it wasn’t a joke, and then everybody reacted and things got crazy.”

The tour group was rushed into a building in the JSA where witnesses gave statements before everyone was escorted back to their bus.

“I’m telling you this because it actually hit me quite hard,” the witness said. “It was on the way back in the bus, and we got to one of the checkpoints…. Someone said we were 43 going in and 42 coming back.”

The Demilitarized Zone is one of the world’s most fortified borders, but the JSA within it serves as an area for North and South Korea to hold diplomatic engagements. The area is jointly overseen by the UN Command and North Korea and has become a popular tourist site.

Visitors must pass through a series of checkpoints to reach the JSA, but crossing the Military Demarcation Line is just a matter of stepping over a small, raised line in the ground. There is no physical barrier.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in cross the military demarcation line at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone Friday, April 27, 2018.

Korea Summit Press Pool via AP

The crossing of the U.S. national into North Korea comes at a sensitive time amid high tensions on the Korean peninsula, with the arrival of a U.S. nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine in South Korea for a rare visit in a warning to North Korea over its own military activities.

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North Korea has been testing increasingly powerful missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, including a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launched last week.

Click to play video: 'North Korea calls Hwasong-18 ballistic missile launch ‘warning’ to U.S.'

North Korea calls Hwasong-18 ballistic missile launch ‘warning’ to U.S.

A U.S. State Department travel advisory bans U.S. nationals from entering North Korea “due to the continuing serious risk of arrest and long term detention of U.S. nationals.”

The ban was implemented after U.S. college student Otto Warmbier was detained by North Korean authorities while on a tour of the country in 2015. He died in 2017, days after he was released from North Korea and returned to the United States in a coma.

Cases of Americans or South Koreans defecting to North Korea are rare, though more than 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea to avoid political oppression and economic difficulties since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

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In November 2017, North Korean soldiers fired 40 rounds as one of their colleagues attempted to cross the border. The soldier was hit five times before he was found beneath a pile of leaves on the southern side of Panmunjom. He survived and is living in South Korea.

A small number of U.S. soldiers defected to North Korea during the Cold War, including Charles Jenkins, who deserted his army post in South Korea in 1965 and crossed the Demilitarized Zone. He appeared in North Korean propaganda films and married a Japanese nursing student who had been abducted by North Korean agents. He died in Japan in 2017.

In recent years, some Americans have been arrested in North Korea after allegedly entering the country from China. They were later convicted of espionage and other anti-state acts, but were often released after the U.S. sent high-profile missions to secure their freedom.

In 2018, North Korea released the last three known American detainees as the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, was engaged in nuclear diplomacy with then-president Donald Trump. The high-stakes diplomacy collapsed in 2019 amid wrangling over U.S.-led sanctions on North Korea.

— with files from Reuters and The Associated Press

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