(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 6-8, 10-11; UPDATES with minor edits throughout)
By Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL, July 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korea sees "high chances" of an individual's alleged illegal border crossing into North Korea, a military official said Sunday after Pyongyang claimed that a defector with suspected virus symptoms recently crossed the demarcation line to return home.
"The military is looking into the detailed routes, seeing high chances of a certain individual's border crossing into the North," the official said. "Regarding the North's media report, our military has specified some people and is verifying facts in close collaboration with related agencies."
The Joint Chiefs of Staff is reviewing the military's overall readiness posture, including its monitoring equipment and recorded video clips, he said.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said earlier in the day that leader Kim Jong-un convened an emergency politburo meeting of the ruling Workers' Party and adopted the "maximum emergency system" against the coronavirus after a defector returned home with suspected COVID-19 symptoms.
"An emergency event happened in Kaesong City where a runaway who went to the South three years ago, a person who is suspected to have been infected with the vicious virus, returned on July 19 after illegally crossing the demarcation line," the report said.
Authorities are known to be looking into a 24-year-old resident in Gimpo, west of Seoul, based on the KCNA report that the person had fled the North in 2017.
The defector, surnamed Kim, is known to be currently out of contact. He has been under police investigation over suspicions of raping a female defector last month.
Kim reportedly fled to the South by swimming, and the possibility is high that he swam back to the North, instead of using land routes, such as through the heavily fortified military demarcation line separating the two Koreas.
North Korean defectors usually receive three months of resettlement education upon their arrival to the South and are put under the support and management of the police for a five-year protection period. But it is known to be practically difficult to follow their movements in real time considering the large number of defectors in the country.
The latest incident is expected to bring the military under fire again, as it has already faced intense public criticism for a series of security breaches highlighting lax discipline.
The military pledged a watertight posture last year after a wooden boat carrying four North Koreans arrived at a South Korean port on the east coast without being detected.
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