SEOUL, South Korea, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- A top North Korean military official is believed to have conducted a secret inspection of the Joint Security Area straddling the inter-Korean border following the escape of a North Korean soldier through the heavily guarded zone.
South Korean government sources told Yonhap News on Sunday that the North's army Gen. Ri Myong-su is believed to have launched a full inspection of the JSA around Nov. 24.
The high-ranking official's involvement is said to be an exceptional case, indicating how seriously the Pyongyang regime is treating the defection case.
Since the soldier's escape to South Korea three weeks ago, all North Korean guards at the JSA have been replaced. Commanders and senior officials responsible for the guard unit are believed to have been strongly disciplined for their failure to prevent the defection.
The North has also ramped up security on the so-called 72-hour Bridge leading to the JSA, built a concrete wall and set up a checkpoint, JoongAng Ilbo reported.
Seoul officials believe North Korea also replaced all its front-line guards stationed in the demilitarized zone before the regular winter military drills began on Friday.
According to No Cut News, the annual exercises could be conducted on a smaller-scale this winter as international sanctions on the regime have likely taken a toll on supplies of aviation fuel and other resources.
The North's annual winter training is usually held until the end of March.