|A missed delivery notice is attached to the door of an apartment in Gimpo, Gyeonggi Province, Monday, belonging to a North Korean defector who is suspected of having fled to the North while police were investigating rape allegations made against him earlier this month. Yonhap|
By Jung Da-min
The South Korean military and police are facing criticism for failing to notice that a North Korean defector had returned to the North, only becoming aware after the situation was reported by North Korean state media.
The military failed to prevent the border crossing, and the police neglected to properly manage the defector, whose identity has not yet been confirmed. However, both the police and the military believe the defector in question is a man surnamed Kim, 24, who has been under police investigation following sexual violence allegations against him.
"The combat readiness inspection office of the JCS is checking the military's overall readiness and other conditions including if surveillance equipment and video recording were operating correctly," the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, hours after the defector's return was known, Sunday.
The military is currently investigating the details of the incident, including the specific route of Kim's return to the North. The military suspects he swam across the border from Ganghwa Island in Incheon to the North after going through a drain under barbed wire fences.
|The Han River is seen from Ganghwa County, Incheon, Monday. A North Korean defector who fled to the North is suspected of having swum across the river. Yonhap|
Near the drain, the military found his bag containing some clothes, swimming goggles and a receipt showing he had exchanged 4.8 million won into dollars.
The case raised questions about the military's surveillance capabilities, as the incident was only the last in a series of border crossing cases in recent years.
In May, a group of Chinese people entered the country undetected after arriving by boat in Taean County, South Chungcheong Province.
In June last year, a North Korean fishing boat carrying four sailors arrived in Samcheok Port, 130 kilometers south of the Northern Limit Line, without being detected by the military.
Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo repeatedly expressed regret over the failures of the military's surveillance and vowed to strengthen defensive operations around the coastline ― an aim that does not appear to have been successful.
Police are also under fire for not properly monitoring North Korean defectors and even ignoring a report of Kim's possible border crossing.
Kim, who came to the South in 2017, has been under police investigation over rape allegations.
Another North Korean defector and YouTuber Kim Jin-ah said during her live broadcast on Sunday that the suspect's border crossing was not impromptu but preplanned, as he had changed South Korean won to U.S. dollars and visited the Ganghwa area several days in advance to scout out his intended travel route.
"From what I heard from his acquaintances, Kim exchanged about 30 million won to 40 million won to U.S. dollars before returning to the North, including the 15 million won deposit for an apartment provided by the government for defectors here, 20 million won from the government's employment subsidy for defectors, and some more after selling his car to illegal secondhand dealers," Kim said.
Kim said she received a text message from him hinting at his plans to return to the North early in the morning on July 18, and she went to his apartment to find that he was already gone. She said she went to a police station near his residence in Gimpo, Gyeonggi Province, but police officials there said they were not in charge of the matter. "If the police received my report and dealt with the matter at the right time, they could have stopped him from returning to the North," she said.
The North Korean media reports said Kim returned on July 19, but the government is currently investigating if it was when he arrived there or when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was informed of his redefection.
According to the South's Ministry of Unification, a total of 11 North Korean defectors have returned to the North over the past five years, excluding the latest event.