N Korean defects to South amid Kim Jong-il festivities

A North Korean citizen has walked across the heavily mined border into South Korea.

Seoul: A North Korean has walked across the heavily mined border into South Korea, but few of his fellow citizens will hear of the rare defection will amid choreographed celebrations for "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il`s birthday.

Military and spy agency officials could not explain how the man managed to walk across the 4-km (2.5-mile) wide minefield and past North Korean guards.

He was being interrogated by authorities after being picked up by South Korean guards late on Tuesday, an official said.

The Demilitarised Zone border that has divided the Korean peninsula since the end of the 1950-53 conflict has been rarely traveled, except through two corridors cleared for passage by officials and civilians after ties warmed beginning in 2000.
Hundreds of North Koreans flee the impoverished country each year across its northern border with China and most make their way to the South, with more than 20,000 having found refuge in the wealthy capitalist neighbor.

Most cite economic hardship and political persecution as the main reasons for leaving home.

While defections are cause for deep embarrassment for the North Korean authorities, the country`s masses do not hear or read about such acts as the media is state controlled and used exclusively for propaganda.
On Wednesday, North Koreans celebrated the country`s biggest holiday to mark the 69th birthday of Kim Jong-il, the isolated state`s reclusive and ailing leader who is trying to smooth the path for a third generation of family rule.

Kim`s youngest son Jong-un, in his late 20s, has been identified to succeed him, and was last year appointed to senior military and political posts, along with Kim`s sister and husband.

Kim Jong-il is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008 and was away from public view for months. He was frail and gaunt when he reappeared months later, although last year he twice traveled to China and visited dozens of factories and military sites at home.


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