An armed North Korean agent was shot to death today just inside South Korea, the south’s Defense Ministry said - a rare burst of deadly violence near the two nations’ tense border.
South Korean authorities launched an extensive manhunt for more armed communist agents believed to have infiltrated the area near Paju, 25 miles north of Seoul.
An alert was issued for all military units along roads leading to Seoul, the officials said. Cars traveling to Seoul from the area were stopped and checked. The ministry repeated through the state broadcasting service and other electronic media a public notice asking people to report anyone suspicious.
The reported scene of the incident in Paju is along the strategic “western corridor” of the 155-mile border. The corridor was used by North Koreans to invade South Korea in 1950, starting a three-year war.
The border is the world’s most heavily armed, with nearly 2 million troops deployed on both sides. No peace treaty was signed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, and the two nations remain technically at war.
The Defense Ministry said two South Korean soldiers standing guard near the Imjin River, which flows along the border, threw two grenades and opened fire after detecting signs of intruders about 2:30 a.m. today (10:30 a.m. Monday PDT).
After dawn broke, soldiers found a pair of swim fins, the ministry statement said. The soldiers then discovered the body of a North Korean agent in a wet suit along with two assault rifles, a hand grenade and two knapsacks about 750 yards downstream, it said.
Many footprints were found near the area, indicating more than one infiltrator, the ministry said.
“It’s highly possible that there was more than one infiltrator,” said Maj. Gen. Chung Hwa-un. “North Korean agents usually operate as a group of two or three.”
Further details were not immediately available. In Washington, a Pentagon spokeswoman, Marine Lt. Col. Joanne Schilling, said Monday night that she had no information on the report.
There was no comment from the North.
The clash comes as relations between the two Koreas deteriorate further because of political and military tensions.
U.S. and South Korean military officials have warned North Korea might provoke clashes to highlight its demand for replacing the 1953 Korean armistice accord with a peace treaty signed with the United States.
North Korea has been trying to dismantle the Korean armistice set up to pressure Washington to start negotiations to establish a new Korean peace system. The United States has rejected the North Korean demand, saying the Koreas themselves must negotiate a new arrangement.