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Increase in North Korean Defections Could Show Impact of Sanctions

In this April 17, 2017, file photo, two North Korean soldiers look at the south side as a South Korean soldier, center, standing guard at the border village of Panmunjom which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, South Korea.
Increase in North Korean Defections Could Reflect Sanctions Impact
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Another North Korean soldier and two fishermen defected to South Korea on Thursday.

The defections could be a sign that economic sanctions intended to punish North Korean leadership are creating difficulties for its people.

South Korea’s military spokesman Roh Jae-cheon confirmed that a low-ranking soldier crossed the border on Thursday morning.

He is the fourth soldier and one of 15 North Korean total defectors to cross the demilitarized zone, or DMZ, directly into the South this year.

In November, a North Korean soldier was badly wounded when North Korean guards fired upon him as he ran across the DMZ to defect to the South.

Most of the nearly 30,000 defectors, who have fled to South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953, have escaped through China.

On Wednesday, the South Korean Unification Ministry said that police found two North Korean men at sea in a small boat off the coast. The two men requested asylum in South Korea and authorities are investigating their identities and claims.

Also in Japan, a number of ships containing dead bodies have come ashore recently. Some analysts believe the North Korean fishing vessels did not have enough fuel to return home.

Human rights groups are voicing concerns that economic sanctions against North Korea are causing food and fuel shortages for its people.

The most recent sanctions ban exports from the $800 million textile industry and reduces oil imports by a third. They also include a ban on the country’s $3 billion coal, iron, lead and seafood exports.

Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean defector, is president of the World Institute of North Korea Studies. He says, “These (minerals) have been banned and are no longer being sold, and it has become difficult to feed soldiers. So it is obvious for hungry soldiers to try to defect.”

UN human rights representative Tomás Ojea Quintana said he is investigating reports that aid organizations were having difficulties because of the sanctions. They provide food and medical aid to at risk populations in North Korea.

“I have to raise awareness with the members of the Security Council,” Quintana said. He added that the U.N. has a responsibility to prevent suffering from sanctions.

In September, South Korea announced plans to donate $8 million to help the World Food Program and the United Nations Children’s Fund to provide food and medicine to poor North Koreans.

And the North Korean government has rejected earlier offers of direct assistance and cooperation from the South.

I’m Susan Shand.

Brian Padden reported this story for VOA News. Susan Shand adapted the report for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

defectv. to leave a country, political party, organization, etc., and go to a different one that is a competitor or an enemy

sanctionn. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country, by not allowing economic aid for that country

intend – v. to have (something) in your mind as a purpose or goal

obvious – adj. easy to see or notice