The man was found early Tuesday near a checkpoint at the eastern end of the heavily fortified demilitarized zone.
The South Korean military claims to have captured a North Korean man who crossed the heavily fortified border between the two countries and is investigating whether he was attempting to defect.
The man was found around 4:20 a.m. (7:20 p.m. GMT Monday) near a checkpoint at the eastern end of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, and was taken into custody afterwards. a three-hour search, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said Tuesday.
“He is presumed to be North Korean and we are investigating the details, including how he got off and whether he wished to defect,” the JCS said in a statement.
“We will give more details after packing the probe,” he added.
There has been no unusual movement across the border, but the military is reviewing its security posture in the region, he added.
About 30,000 North Koreans have fled repression and poverty in South Korea.
The vast majority of defectors first go to neighboring China, sometimes staying there for years before heading south via third countries. Only a handful are likely to cross the DMZ, which is heavily fortified and closely guarded.
Decreasing overall defects
North Korea’s extended lockdowns to fight COVID-19 have led to a sharp drop in the number of defectors arriving in South Korea.
Some 200 North Koreans settled in the South last year, down about 80% from 2019 and a lowest everUnification Minister Lee In-young said last month, citing the reclusive state’s closure of its borders in January 2020.
The last publicly known case was in November when a North Korean man defected to South Korea via the Eastern DMZ.
In early 2020, after months of secrecy, Seoul also acknowledged that a North Korean diplomat, who was acting ambassador to Kuwait, defected south with his family in 2019.
Cross-border relations have deteriorated after denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington came to a halt in 2019, and anger increased last year after North Korean troops shot dead a missing South Korean fisheries official in Wed.
In July, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared an emergency and cordoned off a border town after a person with symptoms of COVID-19 illegally crossed the North Korean border from South Korea.
North Korea has not confirmed any cases of COVID-19, although officials in Seoul have questioned their claims given the country’s close ties with China, where the virus first emerged.