Amid tensions on the Korean Peninsula, a US citizen has illegally crossed the demarcation line between North and South Korea.
The UN command in South Korea said he was probably taken into custody in North Korea. The South Korean daily Dong-a Ilbo, citing the South Korean army, reported that the person was a US Army soldier.
According to the UN command, the US citizen took part in a tour of the Joint Security Area, the border village in the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas. There, soldiers from each side secure the strictly guarded border, which may not be crossed without permission.
UN command wants to clarify the incident
“A US national illegally crossed the military demarcation line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on a JSA orientation tour,” the UN command said on Twitter. “We believe he is currently in DPRK custody and are working with our KPA colleagues to investigate this incident.” KPA is the abbreviation for the People’s Army in the isolated North Korea, the communist-ruled Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The two Korean states have been divided at the demarcation line since the Korean War of 1950-1953. North and South Korea emerged from the Soviet and American zones of occupation in Korea after the end of World War II, which followed its annexation by Japan. North and South Korea both claimed legal successor to the former Korean Empire. In the resulting Korean War, the USA stood by South Korea, and China became an ally of North Korea. To this day there is no peace treaty.
US bans travel to North Korea
Against this background and because of the tensions that have persisted for years, also because of North Korea’s nuclear program and its missile tests, incidents like the current one can take on greater significance.
This was also shown by the case of the US student Otto Warmbier. He was arrested during a trip to North Korea and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016 for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda banner. Warmbier was released in June 2017. At the time of his release, he was in a coma with severe brain damage. He died at the age of 22 within a week of returning to the United States. The cause of death is unclear, his family refused an autopsy and accuses North Korea of abuse.
The US State Department has since banned travel to North Korea, citing “the continued high risk of arrest and long-term detention of US citizens”.