South Korean Man Killed Trying to Defect to the North

Usually, it's the other way around: people and prisoners in the North Korea's gulags really want to get out. On Monday, South Korean soldiers shot a defector, someone who, for one reason or another, really wanted to get into one country where no one wants to stay. 

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On Monday, South Korean soldiers shot a defector trying to sneak from one country to another, but not in the direction you would expect. Usually, this works the other way around with citizens and prisoners in the North Korea's gulags trying to get out, but this man, identified as 47-year-old Nam Yong-Ho, apparently jumped into the Imjin River with a flotation device and tried to swim North. "He jumped into the Imjin river, ignoring repeated warnings to stop ... The soldiers opened fire and his body has been retrieved," the AFP reported.

The mystery, of course, is what prompted Nam to make a swim for it. "Defections from South to North Korea are very rare, and there has been no incident in recent memory where South Korean troops have shot anyone attempting the crossing," a spokesman told the AFP.

The reason that defections are rare is because North Korea isn't really a place you would want to go. The country is consistently in the news for human rights abuses and its subsequent denial of human rights abuses. In fact, the first UN panel of experts investigating the country's human rights abuses has been trying (unsuccessfully) to get into the country.

There are many Southerns who have found themselves in the North, but usually not by choice. South Koreans with relatives who went missing during the Korean War have been asking for this investigation for many years. "Relatives of South Koreans who were taken to the North during the 1950-53 Korean War or whose fishing boats were seized by North Korean gunboats in postwar years also appealed for international attention to the fate of their missing fathers and siblings," The New York Times reported. Many of those missing people are believed to have been imprisoned in the country's brutal gulags where an estimated 80,000 and 120,000 people are incarcerated. 

So what was so bad in South Korea that would make Nam swim to the North? The only clue at the moment seems to be Nam's citizenship. "His passport indicated that he had been deported from Japan in June," the AFP reported.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.