As we’ve reported here and here, there have been several high-profile defections this year involving Korean soldiers sprinting across the heavily fortified border between the two Koreas – a feat that had not been previously accomplished since 2007. In the first incident, the soldier was shot seven times as he staged a daring escape that ended with him being dragged to safety by American and South Korean forces. That incident was caught on video, which can be viewed below.
In the second incident, a North Korean soldier simply walked across.
Two other soldiers also escaped in incidents that apparently weren’t picked up by the western media.
Now, doctors examining one of the soldiers have reportedly discovered that he possesses antibodies to Anthrax – a potent chemical weapon that was notoriously used in the 2001 Anthrax attacks in the US. According to the New York Post, a South Korean intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity did not say which of the four soldiers who fled the hermit kingdom this year had the antibodies in his system. But the discovery is causing concern in Seoul because, once the bacterium is released, it can kill 80% of those infected within 24 hours unless antibiotics are taken or vaccination is available.
And while the US has stockpiles of the vaccine, South Korea has yet to produce it.
Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo said an anthrax “vaccine is expected to be developed by the end of 2019,” but likely not before then.
The restive North Korean regime has been suspected of developing biological weapons after publicizing the works of the Pyongyang Biological Technology Research Institute in 2015. The institute is run by the North Korean army.
Pyongyang claimed the facility specializes in pesticide research, but analysts have said its dual-use equipment suggests biological weapons are being manufactured in North Korea.
North Korea’s neighbors fear Pyongyang is conducting illegal biological weapons tests to see if anthrax-laden warheads can be loaded onto its missiles, the Sun of the UK reported. Media reports earlier this year suggested that North Korea had begun to test loading anthrax onto them.
The report said the US is aware of the tests, which are meant to ascertain whether the anthrax bacteria could survive reentry into the Earth's atmosphere - as we pointed out last week.
Seoul believes North Korea has a chemical weapons stockpile of up to 5,000 tons and can produce biological warfare agents such as anthrax and smallpox. Also last week, the White House pointed to the dangers posed by North Korea in the National Security Strategy released by President Trump.
"North Korea - a country that starves its own people - has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that could threaten our homeland," read the report.
"[North Korea is] pursuing chemical and biological weapons which could also be delivered by missile."
Pyongyang denied the Asahi report through the state media Korean Central News Agency.
"As a state party to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), [North Korea] maintains its consistent stand to oppose development, manufacture, stockpiling and possession of biological weapons," the KCNA reported.