US National Detained In North Korea For Crossing Border Is A Former Soldier: Report

The U.N. Command tweeted that the U.S. citizen was on a tour to the Korean border village of Panmunjom and crossed the border into the North without authorization.

The truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas.

A US national detained in North Korea for crossing into the country is a former US soldier, according to reports. 

Earlier on Tuesday, a United Nations (UN) agency said that a US national who crossed into North Korea is understood to be in detention. 

The detained person has so far not been identified and it is not known whether the crossing was intentional or unintentional. 

The UN Command, which oversees the the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and Joint Security Area (JSA) between the North and South Koreas, announced the detention of the US national in a tweet.

"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," said the UN Command.

Later, reports said that the US national who crossed into North Korea was a former US soldier. 

"There were no immediate details about how or why the soldier crossed the heavily fortified border or whether the soldier was on duty. The officials spoke Tuesday on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter ahead of a public announcement," reported AP.

The development comes at a time when US-North Korea tensions are high over the Kim Jong Un-led nation's nuclear programme. 

"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," notes AP.

Panmunjom, located inside the 248-kilometre-long Demilitarised Zone, is jointly overseen by the UN Command and North Korea since its creation at the close of the Korean War, noted AP. It was during the tour of the JSA that the former soldier crossed over and was detained. 

"Known for its blue huts straddling concrete slabs that form a military demarcation line, Panmunjom has drawn visitors on both sides, who want to see what the Cold War's last frontier looks like. No civilians live at Panmunjom. Tours to the southern side of the village reportedly drew around 100,000 visitors a year before the pandemic, when South Korea restricted gatherings to slow the spread of Covid-19. The tours fully resumed last year, " reported AP.

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

"In May 2018, North Korea released three American detainees – Kim Dong Chul, Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song – who returned to the United Sates on a plane with then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, during a short-lived period of warm relations between the longtime adversary nations. Later in 2018, North Korea said it expelled American Bruce Byron Lowrance," reported AP, noting that it happened at a time when the then-President Donald Trump was engaging with Kim.

However, a student named Otto Warmbier died in 2017 after he was released from North Korea in a coma after being in captivity for 17 months. 

The North Korea has been accused of using such instances to secure international and diplomatic concessions. Moreover, the current episode comes in the midst of rising US-North Korea tensions.

"Tuesday's border crossing happened amid high tensions over North Korea's barrage of missile tests since the start of last year. The United States earlier Tuesday sent a nuclear-armed submarine to South Korea for the first time in decades as deterrence against North Korea," notes AP.