A North Korean soldier defected on Tuesday across the heavily mined Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) border to South Korea, the South's military said, amid high tension over the North's defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The South Korean military is questioning the soldier, the South's Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. The soldier's courageous and life threatening act is not a first in the decades long conflict between North and South Korea.
The defection comes as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says North Korea is the most urgent and dangerous threat to peace and security in the world.
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Mattis tells a congressional panel that Pyongyang's "continued pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them has increased in pace and scope." He calls the country's programs to build weapons of mass destruction "a clear and present danger to all."
Top U.S. military officials have warned that it's a question of when, not if, Pyongyang successfully builds a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the U.S.
North Korea is a politically and economically isolated nation whose leaders have long viewed the United States as a military threat, in part because of periodic U.S. military exercises with South Korea.