Seoul: North Kore­ans fired 40 shots at de­fec­tor, hit him with five

The News (New Glasgow) - - WORLD -

Four North Korean sol­diers fired about 40 rounds at a com­rade flee­ing into South Korea and hit him five times in the first shoot­ing at the jointly con­trolled area of the heav­ily for­ti­fied bor­der in more than 30 years, the South’s mil­i­tary said Tues­day.

South Korean sol­diers did not fire their weapons, but Mon­day’s in­ci­dent oc­curred at a time of high an­i­mos­ity over North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram. The North has ex­pressed in­tense anger over past high­pro­file de­fec­tions.

The soldier is be­ing treated at a South Korean hos­pi­tal af­ter a five-hour op­er­a­tion for the gun­shot wounds he suf­fered dur­ing his escape across the Joint Se­cu­rity Area. His per­sonal de­tails and mo­tive for defection are un­known and his ex­act med­i­cal con­di­tion is un­clear.

South Korea’s mil­i­tary said he suf­fered in­juries in his in­ter­nal or­gans but wasn’t in a life-threat­en­ing con­di­tion. But the Ajou Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter near Seoul said the soldier was re­ly­ing on a breath­ing ma­chine af­ter the surgery re­moved the bul­lets. Lee Guk-jong, a doc­tor who leads Ajou’s med­i­cal team for the soldier, de­scribed his pa­tient’s con­di­tion as “very dan­ger­ous” and said the next 10 days might de­ter­mine whether he re­cov­ers.

On Mon­day, he first drove a mil­i­tary jeep but left the ve­hi­cle when one of its wheels fell into a ditch. He then fled across the JSA, with fel­low sol­diers chas­ing and fir­ing at him, South Korea’s mil­i­tary said, cit­ing un­spec­i­fied sur­veil­lance sys­tems in­stalled in the area.

Suh Wook, chief di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions for the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told law­mak­ers that North Korea fired a to­tal of about 40 rounds in a shoot­ing that his of­fice sug­gested started while the soldier was in the jeep.

The solider was found be­neath a pile of leaves on the south­ern side of the JSA and South Korean troops crawled there to re­cover him. A UN Com­mand he­li­copter later trans­ported him to the Ajou med­i­cal cen­tre, ac­cord­ing to South Korean of­fi­cials.

The North’s of­fi­cial me­dia haven’t re­ported the case as of Tues­day af­ter­noon. They have pre­vi­ously ac­cused South Korea of kid­nap­ping or en­tic­ing North Kore­ans to de­fect. About 30,000 North Kore­ans have fled to South Korea, mostly via China, since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

The JSA is jointly over­seen by the Amer­i­can-led UN Com­mand and by North Korea, with South Korean and North Korean bor­der guards fac­ing each other only me­ters apart. It is lo­cated inside the fourk­ilo­me­tre-wide Demil­i­ta­rized Zone, which forms the de facto bor­der be­tween the Koreas since the Korean War. While both sides of the DMZ are guarded by barbed wire fences, mines and tank traps, the JSA in­cludes the truce vil­lage of Pan­munjom which pro­vides the site for rare talks and draws cu­ri­ous tourists.

Mon­day’s in­ci­dent was the first shoot­ing at the Joint Se­cu­rity Area since North Korean and UN Com­mand sol­diers traded gun­fire when a Soviet ci­ti­zen de­fected by sprint­ing to the South Korean sec­tor of the JSA in 1984. A North Korean soldier de­fected there in 1998 and an­other in 2007 but nei­ther of those events in­volved gun­fire be­tween the ri­vals, ac­cord­ing to South Korea’s mil­i­tary.

The 1984 ex­change of gun­fire hap­pened af­ter North Korean sol­diers crossed the bor­der and fired, ac­cord­ing to the UN Com­mand. In Mon­day’s in­ci­dent, it wasn’t known if the North con­tin­ued fir­ing af­ter the de­fec­tor was of­fi­cially in the south­ern part of the Joint Se­cu­rity Area. The UN Com­mand said Tues­day that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the in­ci­dent was un­der­way.

The Joint Se­cu­rity Area was the site of some blood­shed dur­ing the Cold War but there hasn’t been ma­jor vi­o­lence there in re­cent years. In 1976, North Korean sol­diers axed two Amer­i­can army of­fi­cers to death and the United States re­sponded by fly­ing nu­clear-ca­pa­ble B-52 bombers to­ward the DMZ in an at­tempt to in­tim­i­date the North.

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