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Defense minister offers public apology over border security failure

South Korea's defense minister issued a public apology Monday over the undetected defection early this month of a North Korean soldier through the heavily armed border and announced disciplinary measures against those responsible for the incident.

"I acknowledge that the North Korean soldier's defection apparently shows the failure of security and flaws in the emergency reporting system. I sincerely apologize for causing worries,"

Minister Kim Kwan-jin said during a press conference held at the defense ministry.

"The military has failed to promptly inform the people, causing confusion."

The military has been under strong criticism for failing to detect the Oct. 2 crossing, especially following revelations that the North Korean soldier was taken into custody only after he knocked on the entrance to a front-line unit on the eastern section of the border.

Initially, military officials said the North Korean had been detected by surveillance cameras and guided to safety, but a joint investigation team discovered that the defector made his way through rows of barbed wire fences dividing the two Koreas.

Kim said he will sternly punish military commanders and senior officials over the incident and thoroughly investigate flaws in the security and reporting system.

According to the ministry, five general-grade officials and nine mid-level officers at front-line units as well as officers in the Joint Chiefs of Staff will face disciplinary actions, partly for trying to cover up the circumstances of the soldier's defection. 

The latest move came after President Lee Myung-bak censured the defense chief last week over lax military discipline and urged him to punish those responsible for the incident, which is considered one of South Korea's biggest border security failures in recent years. (Yonhap News)