North Korean soldiers shoot comrade as he defects across the border.
TOKYO • A soldier from North Korea made a rare successful escape across the heavily fortified border with the South Monday.
The North Korean guard stationed within the Joint Security Area (JSA) fled across the border into the South in the early hours. He was shot in the shoulder and elbow by fellow guards.
The soldier was airlifted by a United Nations helicopter to a hospital but his injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.
The injured soldier was found by South Korean troops on the South’s side of the frontier after several bursts of gunfire.
The defection came at a time of heightened tension over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and could escalate animosities between the rival countries. North Korea has typically accused South Korea of enticing its citizens to defect, something the South denies.
About 30,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, but most travel through China.
At the weekend, a North Korean defector made a heartbreaking plea for international help to save his wife and young child from execution after they were caught trying to flee the pariah state into China.
Taewon Lee, 29, said he last heard from his wife and four-year-old son — whose identities he wanted to protect — on Nov 4, in a snatched telephone conversation when she told him they had been arrested in China.
“I almost fainted. I collapsed on the floor for hours,” he said, speaking from the South Korean capital, Seoul. Since then he has pleaded with the South’s foreign ministry for help, but their diplomatic efforts to locate his family have yielded few results.
The consequences of deportation would be dire. “They will definitely be sent to a prison camp. In the worst case, they will be killed,” said Lee. “Even if they forgive my son, his background will be that his father went to South Korea, his mother was in a prison camp or executed.
He will have no family, maybe he will become a street child.”
Despite building evidence of human rights atrocities, there has been a reported surge in deportations back to the North from China, the most common escape route for defectors.
Lee fled to South Korea two years ago, choosing to make the initial journey alone as it was so dangerous.
When he safely reached Seoul, he saved the money for his wife and son to join him, but she was too terrified to leave because of the penalties for being caught.
Harassment from security agencies forced her to take the risk of crossing into China’s Liaoning province on Oct 17. Police arrested them in Shenyang on Nov 4.