N Korea soldier ‘shot six times’ as he de­fected

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD -

A NORTH Korean soldier in­volved in an ex­tremely rare and dra­matic defection to the South was shot six times by his own side as he drove to the heav­ily guarded bor­der and ran across un­der a hail of bul­lets.

The US-led United Na­tions Com­mand (UNC), which mon­i­tors the Pan­munjom bor­der truce vil­lage where the defection oc­curred on Mon­day, said the soldier had driven close to the heav­ily guarded, mil­i­tary de­mar­ca­tion line sep­a­rat­ing the two Koreas.

“He then ex­ited the ve­hi­cle and con­tin­ued flee­ing south across the line as he was fired upon by other sol­diers from North Korea,” the UNC said.

An of­fi­cial with the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North’s bor­der guards fired at least 40 rounds.

A doc­tor treat­ing the soldier – who was air­lifted to a hos­pi­tal for emer­gency surgery – said he had been shot halfa-dozen times and sus­tained a se­ri­ous stom­ach in­jury.

“He has at least six gun­shot wounds on his body and the pen­e­trat­ing wound in the ab­domen is the most se­ri­ous”, Lee Cook-jong said.“His or­gans are ex­tremely dam­aged . . . we do not know how long he can hold up,” Lee said, de­scrib­ing the soldier’s con­di­tion as “very se­ri­ous”.

It is very rare for the North’s troops to de­fect at the truce vil­lage, a ma­jor tour- ist at­trac­tion bi­sected by the de­mar­ca­tion line and the only part of the fron­tier where forces from the two sides come face-to-face.

The 1953 cease­fire end­ing Kore­anWar hos­til­i­ties was signed at Pan­munjom, and it has since hosted nu­mer­ous rounds of in­ter-Korean talks.

The fact the de­fec­tor drove to the fron­tier sug­gests he may not have been a mem­ber of the elite corps of North Korean troops posted to Pan­munjom, who are care­fully vet­ted and se­lected for their loy­alty.

Ac­cord­ing to the South Korean mil­i­tary there was no ex­change of fire across the bor­der, and the UNC stressed no South Korean or US forces were harmed.

The in­ci­dent, which hap­pened in broad day­light around 4pm, comes at a time of height­ened ten­sions on the Korean penin­sula over the North’s nu­clear weapons pro­gramme.

Un­like the rest of the fron­tier, Pan­munjom is not for­ti­fied with mine­fields and barbed wire and the bor­der is marked only by a low con­crete di­vider.

Af­ter rac­ing across the fron­tier, the soldier took cover near a build­ing on the South side. The Joint Chiefs of Staff of­fi­cial said he was found col­lapsed in a pile of leaves and re­cov­ered by three South Korean sol­diers crawl­ing on their stom­achs to his po­si­tion.

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