• South Korean army soldiers patrol along the barbed-wire fence in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea (AAP)
The number of North Koreans escaping to the South declined sharply in the first half of this year as Pyongyang strengthened controls on its border with China, officials said Wednesday.
Source:
AFP
12 Jul - 12:37 PM  UPDATED 12 Jul - 12:51 PM

The DMZ dividing the Korean peninsula is one of the most heavily fortified places in the world, and almost all defectors to the South go to China first -- where they still risk being repatriated if caught -- and then on to a third country before travelling to the South.

In the six months to June, 593 Northerners entered South Korea, down 20.8 percent from the same period in 2016, statistics compiled by Seoul's Unification Ministry showed. 

As usual most -- 85 percent -- were women. North Korean men who try to leave are likely to be rapidly identified as absent by their work units.

Related reading
US THAAD missile defenses hit test target as North Korea tension rises
The United States said it shot down a simulated, incoming intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) similar to the ones being developed by countries like North Korea, in a new test of the nation's THAAD missile defenses.

Pyongyang's "tightened grip on the population and strengthened border controls add to the risks for potential defectors to take the plunge", a ministry official told AFP.

The Seoul-financed Korea Institute for National Unification said in a report that since late 2015, the North has been bolstering border controls and installing high-tension electric fencing along the Tumen River that forms the border with China.

A total of 30,805 North Koreans have fled to the South, many of them leaving during the famine years of the 1990s.

Arrivals peaked in 2009, but numbers have fallen more recently, with leader Kim Jong-Un reportedly ordering crackdowns on defectors and tightened border controls after inheriting power from his father in 2011.

Related reading
Beijing says 'China responsibility theory' on North Korea has to stop
China hit back on Tuesday in unusually strong terms at repeated calls from the United States to put more pressure on North Korea, urging a halt to what it called the 'China responsibility theory', and saying all parties needed to pull their weight.
North Korean ICBM could 'likely' hit San Diego in 2 years: US monitor
San Diego could be in North Korea's firing line within two years, according to a US monitoring group.