According to the United Nations Command, a US citizen is believed to have been detained by North Korea after illegally crossing the military demarcation line that separates the two Koreas. The individual was participating in a tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA), a border village located in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between South Korea and North Korea, where soldiers from both sides are stationed.
On Tuesday, the UN Command, responsible for overseeing the DMZ since the Korean War armistice in 1953, stated, “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),” The acronym DPRK refers to North Korea’s official name. The UN Command further added that they believe the individual is currently in custody in North Korea and are working with their counterparts in the North Korean People’s Army (KPA) to resolve the situation.
No specific details about the person’s identity or reasons for crossing the border were provided in the statement. The US Department of State and South Korea’s defense ministry has not yet commented on the incident.
It’s worth noting that the US Department of State has a travel advisory in place, which prohibits US nationals from entering North Korea due to the ongoing serious risk of arrest and long-term detention of US citizens. This advisory was implemented after the tragic case of Otto Warmbier, a US college student who was detained by North Korean authorities during a tour of the country in 2015.
Warmbier was released from prison in a coma and passed away a few days later upon his return to the United States.
While instances of US citizens or South Koreans defecting to North Korea are rare, over 30,000 North Koreans have sought refuge in South Korea to escape political oppression and economic hardships since the conclusion of the Korean War.