South Korean Infiltration Scare

SEOUL, South Korea -- Mysterious holes found in a wire fence along the tense border with North Korea were most likely used not by communist infiltrators but by a South Korean defector to the North, South Korea's military said Tuesday.

The highly unusual discovery of the holes -- found in a fence checked daily by troops for signs of infiltration -- had triggered fears of North Korean commandos slipping through the border and led South Korea to tighten roadblocks and traffic checks north of Seoul.

The increased security along the roads between the tense front line and Seoul came as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was visiting South Korea to discuss ways to restart stalled talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

"After investigating the way the fence was cut and the footprints at the scene, we have concluded that an unidentified person crossed into the North," said Brigadier General Hwang Joong-sun, an operational officer at the South Korean military's Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"We have terminated our military operation against possible enemy infiltration," he added.

Given the crude job of cutting the fence, Hwang said, South Korea believed that the person was a South Korean civilian, not a North Korean agent returning home after a mission in the South.

Thousands of North Koreans defect to South Korea annually, almost all of them traveling through China, but South Koreans rarely defect to the North.

Earlier Tuesday, South Korea said its nighttime border guards found a hole in the wire fence that forms the southern boundary of the four-kilometer-wide Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas.

The 40-centimeter by 30-centimeter hole was discovered early Tuesday near Yeoncheon, a border town 60 kilometers north of Seoul.

The military later reported another hole in the fence 1.2 kilometers from the first hole.

South Korea had imposed "Jindogye-1" around Yeoncheon, the highest level of vigilance the military can issue before an actual sighting of a communist infiltrator.

On the roads between Yeoncheon and Seoul, soldiers and armored vehicles joined police at checkpoints.

Fears of North Korean infiltrations run high in South Korea. In the most infamous case, 31 North Korean commandos who had slipped undetected through the DMZ came within striking distance of the palace of then-South Korean President Park Chung-hee in downtown Seoul. Only at the last minute did South Korean security forces repel the assault. The sole survivor said he came to "slit the throat of Park Chung-hee."

Roads between Seoul and the front line are dotted with concrete tank traps, checkpoints and roadblocks. A large portion of South Korea's 650,000-member military is amassed in the area, which North Korea used as the main corridor of invasion when it started the 1950-53 Korean War.

The war ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, and the two Koreas remain technically at war.