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Young N. Korean soldier reportedly flees to South

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated that South Korean soldiers gave the alleged North Korean defector a meal of ramen noodles upon his arrival. That episode occurred in the 2012 defection, which was also referenced in the story. The article has been updated to fix the error.

SEOUL -- A North Korean soldier believed to be in his late teens defected to the South on Monday by sneaking across the border that divides the two Koreas, an official at South Korea's Ministry of National Defense said.

The soldier purportedly told officers in the South that he had defected to avoid the repeated beatings doled out by his superiors at home.

Yonhap reported last week that North Korean troops had been spotted recently installing landmines on the northern side of the border. The agency cited a South Korean government official as saying the installations appeared to be aimed at preventing defections by troops from the north.

It wasn't clear Monday how the teenage soldier had managed to cross the world's most heavily armed border on foot. Two million soldiers from both sides reportedly patrol the 160-mile long border. South Korea's defense ministry reported no exchange of gunfire or other signs of conflict. North Korea's state-run media made no immediate mention of the report.

North Korea is known to put some of its most loyal and ideologically fervent soldiers along the border.

Defection across the border is rare, but in 2012, when North Korea's young new leader Kim Jong Un was hardening his grip on the military, three soldiers defected separately across the border, including one who defected after killing two of his superiors who caught him stealing food.

In that case, an opposition lawmaker said during a parliamentary hearing that upon taking the North Korean soldier into custody, South Korean troops cooked the starving man some ramen noodles rather than grilling him for useful intelligence.

"Once the North Korean soldier defected, the troops should have immediately interrogated him or passed him over to other units. But they instead cooked ramen for him in the barracks," Rep. Jeong Cheong-rae, of the main opposition party, was quoted as saying by South Korea's Yonhap news agency. "When I asked if this was an appropriate action to take, they said he looked very hungry and so they cooked for him."

Experts view the recent defections as a sign of growing discontent within the North Korean army.

During the Cold War, South Korea's authoritarian regime celebrated the defection of North Korean soldiers as an important victory in its propaganda war against the North.

One of the most publicized defections occurred on Feb. 25, 1983, when Lee Woong-pyung, a 28-year-old North Korean Air Force officer, flew his Soviet-supplied MiG-19 fighter jet across the border. He was welcomed to the South with a massive parade attended by more than two million cheering South Koreans and an award for bravery from the South Korean government.

Lee later re-enlisted in the South Korean Air Force.

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