(Al Jazeera Media Network) A man detained in North Korea after crossing the military demarcation line separating the two Koreas is a United States soldier who entered the country “willfully and without authorization,” according to a U.S. military official.
The United Nations Command, which has helped oversee the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between South Korea and North Korea since an armistice ended fighting in the 1950-1953 Korean War, said on Tuesday the individual had been taking part in a tour when he crossed into North 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),” the command said, referring to North Korea’s official name.
Later on Tuesday, U.S. Colonel Isaac Taylor, a spokesperson for the U.S. Armed Force in Korea, said a member of the U.S. military “wilfully and without authorization crossed the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).”
The soldier’s motives were not immediately clear, but two U.S. officials told Reuters news agency on the condition of anonymity that the soldier had been due to face disciplinary action prior to the incident.
Panmunjom is located within the 248-kilometre-long Demilitarized Zones. Bloodshed and gunfire have occasionally occurred there, but it has also been a venue for numerous talks.
In 2019, former U.S. President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un at the village.
Two years earlier, in November of 2017, North Korean soldiers fired dozens of rounds as one of their colleagues raced toward freedom. 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 now in South Korea.
Earlier incidents in Panmunjom included the killing of U.S. army officers by ax-wielding North Korean soldiers in August 1976. The U.S. officers had been sent out to trim a tree that obstructed the view from a checkpoint.
Tours to the southern side of the village, known for its blue huts straddling concrete slabs, have become common. They reportedly drew around 100,000 visitors a year prior to the coronavirus pandemic. No civilians live in the village.
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 prison and returned to the United States in a coma.
Tuesday’s border crossing occurred as tensions remain high over North Korea’s continued missile tests since the start of last year. The U.S. earlier Tuesday sent a nuclear-armed submarine to South Korea for the first time in decades as deterrence against North Korea.