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By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, Sept. 17 (Yonhap) -- A South Korean man who was shot dead while trying to swim across a border river had sought refugee protection in Japan before making a rare attempt to defect to the North, a senior military official said Tuesday.
On Monday, the 47-year-old man, only identified by his surname Nam, slipped through barbed wire and jumped into the Imjin River near the western border despite repeated warnings by border guards to turn back. About 30 soldiers fired off hundreds of rounds of ammunition to stop him. He was shot dead by two rounds, a military investigator said.
"The dead man had applied for refugee status in Japan for political reasons, but his application was turned down and he was expelled from the nation," Army Brg. Gen. Jo Jong-seol, deputy operation commander at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a briefing. "It is known that (Nam) did similar acts in other countries."
A joint investigation team identified the civilian by a passport he was carrying, and is currently conducting fingerprint testing, he said.
At the time of the incident, the man had wrapped himself in Styrofoam, as a substitute for a life jacket, and was carrying some emergency food, including instant noodles and snacks, according to military officials.
Military officials said the soldiers followed the guidelines to shoot the man because he had already jumped into the 800 meter-wide river.
"A squadron leader immediately approached the man and told him to turn around," Jo said. "It was a very urgent situation because he could have reached North Korea in a moment if he had swum with the floating object."
The Imjin River, which flows from North Korea into the Yellow Sea off the west coast, joins the Han River that runs through Seoul, downstream.
More than 25,000 North Koreans have defected to the South in search of a better life, especially following the famine in the late 1990s. There have been few cases in the past decade of South Koreans seeking to enter the impoverished neighboring country through the heavily guarded border.
It is the first time in over a decade that the military has shot a civilian to death to bar defection, according to military officials.
The two Koreas remain technically at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
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