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Defense minister apologizes for defector's slipping across border back to North

All News 17:17 July 28, 2020

SEOUL, July 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo apologized on Tuesday for failing to prevent a North Korean defector from crossing the heavily guarded border to the North.

While attending the national defense committee's briefing at the National Assembly, the minister said, "I shoulder the ultimate responsibility as the defense minister" for what happened.

But he emphasized that the military's vigilance and combat readiness are "not so bad as you might think they are" and gave assurances that the military's system and equipment to protect the country are working well.

On Sunday, the North claimed that a "runaway" returned to his home in the border city of Kaesong on July 19 with symptoms of COVID-19, a claim that was rejected by South Korean health authorities.

"The person is neither registered as a COVID-19 patient nor classified as a person who came in contact with virus patients," Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health official, said in a press briefing on Monday.

The defense minister suspected that the North's regime had "political purposes" behind the claims and that it was trying to shift responsibility for the spread of the coronavirus to outside forces.

The convening of an emergency meeting Saturday by the Workers' Party of North Korea must have occurred "after taking into consideration various factors," he said. "The party must have a political purpose while stressing the potential risks of the spread of COVID-19."

At the politburo meeting, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un adopted a "maximum emergency system" against the coronavirus.

According to the South Korean military, the defector is believed to have swum across the border from the western border island of Gwanghwa after going through a drain under barbed wire fences to evade South Korean border guards.

Asked if he believed that the North was indirectly asking for help on the quarantine front, Jeong said, "I agree to some extent, but the (North's) intention should be interpreted from various aspects."

South Korea's Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo talks during a briefing at the National Assembly's national defense committee in Seoul on July 28, 2020. (Yonhap)

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr
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