TOKYO - A North Korean pilot, declaring he could no longer tolerate conditions in the North, flew his aging Soviet-built fighter jet to an airfield south of Seoul in a dramatic defection yesterday.
The first thing he asked for was a glass of whiskey.
Air raid sirens sounded in Seoul and nearby cities as South Korean fighter jets scrambled to intercept the lone defector above the Yellow Sea west of the South Korean capital.
It sparked the first air-raid alert in 13 years and sent millions of South Koreans briefly scrambling for cover in underground shelters.
When the pilot waggled his unarmed jet's wings and lowered his landing gearing signaling he wanted to defect, South Korea's U.S.-made F-16 jets escorted him to an airfield south of Seoul.
"I could not stand to live in the North any more," North Korean Capt. Lee Chul-soo, 30, told reporters after landing.
He said he left behind his father, a wife and two young children.
Television stations in Seoul quoted government officials as saying the defector may receive a reward of up to $320,000.
The defection came hours after South Korea accused the North of crossing into its territory with five gunboats. It was the latest in a series of incidents since early April when Pyongyang announced it was unilaterally abandoning the 1953 truce that ended the Korean War.
The apparently unrelated events ratcheted up tensions on the Korean peninsula even as the North continued to ponder a month-old, U.S.-South Korean peace initiative.
Unlike past peace overtures, the North has remained noncommittal on the proposal by President Clinton and South Korean President Kim Young Sam at a summit last month.
"This is …