SEOUL Ė A two-star Marine Corps general has been relieved of his command for failing to prevent the escape of a North Korean defector who recently returned to his country, South Koreaís Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) announced on Friday.
According to the results of an internal investigation by the JCS, the 24-year-old deserter, named Kim, was captured seven times on the militaryís surveillance devices during his flight, but none of the troops in charge of border security identified him as a person trying to cross the border.
Therefore, the countryís top military body said in a press conference that it has decided to take disciplinary action against several border security officials, starting with General Baek Gyeong-sun, commander of the Marine Corps division in charge of the security of the area, South Korean news agency Yonhap agency reported.
Early July 18, Kim entered a drain on the island of Ganghwa (20 kilometers west of Seoul) near the border with North Korea, and after crossing the rundown wire fences inside the tunnel, reached the water separating the two countries.
Kim then swam the approximately two kilometers separating the coasts of the two Koreas around the mouth of the Han and Imjin rivers and reached North Korean territory in just over an hour.
Following intense criticism of the military, the JCS said on Friday that it will review the six drains in this border area to ensure that the fences are reinforced.
Kimís escape came to light after the North Korean regime said on Sunday that the defector, who had originally fled to the South in 2017, is the first possible COVID-19 positive case in the isolated country, which technically remains at war with the South as the war between them (1950-1953) ended only with a ceasefire.
However, South Korean authorities, which have one of the most comprehensive tracking systems in the world, have said that Kim is not on the list of infected people nor did he come in contact with any COVID-19 positive person. His closest contacts have also tested negative for the virus and his clothes do not show traces of COVID-19.
Experts believe the disease is already present in North Korea because of the porosity of its border with China and that the regime may be using Kimís case to blame the South and deserters for the virusís entry.