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A North Korean man who defected to South Korea in 2020 scaled a border fence to escape back to his home country

A South Korean guard post seen in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea.

AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

  • A North Korean defector recrossed the border to his home country on Saturday, South Korea’s defense ministry said.
  • The man defected to the South in 2020 and worked as a cleaner in Seoul, according to local media.
  • A South Korean official told local media there was no evidence to suggest he was a spy.

A man who defected from North Korea to South Korea in 2020 has recrossed the border to return to his home country, according to local reports and South Korea’s defense ministry.

South Korea’s defense ministry said Sunday that a man in his 30s scaled the fence at the eastern end of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two nations on Saturday night. 

On Monday, the ministry said it believed that the man in question, who has not been named, defected from North Korea to the South in November 2020, he Yonhap news agency reported.

The defense ministry first spotted the man at around 9:20 p.m. after he tripped an alarm system, but the man successfully crossed back into North Korea at 10:40 p.m., the ministry said Sunday, per Yonhap. 

South Korean media outlets noted that the man had experience as a gymnast, which helped him scale the border crossing, The Guardian reported.

A South Korean official told Yonhap that there was no evidence to suggest the man was spying for North Korea while in the South.

However, he appeared to be struggling financially.

While living in South Korea, the man had “barely scraping a living” working as a janitor in a suburb of Seoul, a military official told Reuters.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry provided the man with safety support, housing, medical treatment, and employment upon his arrival in 2020, Yonhap said.

North Koreans who flee to the South are entitled to receive aid as part of the North Korean Refugees Protection and Settlement Support Act.

One of the man’s neighbors told Yonhap that the man was seen tossing out his belongings on Friday, the day before he crossed the border, Reuters reported.

“He was taking out a mattress and bedding to garbage dumps on that morning, and it was strange because they were all too new,” the person said, according to Reuters.

“I thought about asking him to give it to us, but ended up not doing that, because we’ve never said hi to each other.”

On Monday, North Korea acknowledged it had received the South’s report of the re-defection, Yonhap reported.

At least 30 North Koreans who defected to the South have returned to the North in the past 10 years, Yonhap reported, citing government data.

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