De­fect­ing N Korea sol­dier es­capes in hail of bul­lets

Kuwait Times - - International -

SEOUL: A North Korean sol­dier is ex­pected to sur­vive crit­i­cal wounds he re­ceived when his old com­rades fired a hail of bul­lets at him as he made a de­fec­tion dash to South Korea, the South’s gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary said yes­ter­day. The sol­dier had on Mon­day sped to­wards the bor­der in a “peace vil­lage” in the heav­ily guarded de­mil­i­ta­rized zone, in a four-wheel drive ve­hi­cle. But when a wheel came loose, he fled on foot as four North Korean soldiers fired about 40 rounds at him, said Suh Wook, chief di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions at South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, brief­ing law­mak­ers.

“Un­til this morn­ing, we heard he had no con­scious­ness and was un­able to breathe on his own but his life can be saved,” Suh said. Sur­geons had re­moved five bul­lets from the sol­dier’s body, leav­ing two in­side, Suh added, to mur­murs from law­mak­ers who said the sol­dier’s es­cape was “right out of a movie”. The sol­dier took cover be­hind a South Korean struc­ture in a Joint Se­cu­rity Area (JSA) in­side the de­mil­i­ta­rized zone

be­tween the two Koreas.

South Korean and US soldiers, fear­ing more North Korean fire, later crawled to him to res­cue him, the United Na­tions Com­mand said in a sep­a­rate state­ment. North Korea has not said any­thing about the sol­dier. Its mil­i­tary had not given any in­di­ca­tion of un­usual move­ments yes­ter­day, the South’s mil­i­tary said. While on av­er­age more than 1,000 North Kore­ans de­fect to the South ev­ery year, most travel via China and it is un­usual for a North Korean to cross the land bor­der di­vid­ing the two Koreas, which have been in a tech­ni­cal state of war since their 1950-53 con­flict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The UN Com­mand, in place since the end of the war, said an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the in­ci­dent was be­ing con­ducted. South Korean De­fense Min­is­ter Song Young­moo said it was the first time North Korean soldiers had fired to­wards the South’s side of the JSA, prompt­ing com­plaints from some law­mak­ers that the South’s mil­i­tary should have re­turned fire. Moon Sang-gyun, the South’s de­fense min­istry spokesman, said mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions at the JSA were usu­ally con­ducted un­der the or­ders of the UN Com­mand, which is in turn un­der or­ders from the US mil­i­tary.

In­testi­nal dam­age

The sol­dier, who was not armed, was flown in a UN Com­mand he­li­copter to an op­er­at­ing the­atre where doc­tors be­gan work­ing to save him even be­fore he was out of a uni­form that in­di­cated he held a lower rank, Suh said. South Korean of­fi­cials have yet to iden­tify where the sol­dier came from or what his in­ten­tions were. Lee Cook-jong, the sur­geon in charge of the sol­dier’s care at the Ajou Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal, told re­porters he was suf­fer­ing from crit­i­cal in­testi­nal dam­age.

Hos­pi­tal of­fi­cials where un­der strict se­cu­rity agency or­ders not to talk to me­dia and all up­dates on the sol­dier had to be through the mil­i­tary, work­ers there said. Dr Lee had been “given a talk­ing to” af­ter a brief ex­change with the me­dia, the hos­pi­tal work­ers said. The UN mil­i­tary ar­mistice com­mis­sion said it had in­formed the North Korean mil­i­tary that the sol­dier, who was found about 50 me­ters south of a Mil­i­tary De­mar­ca­tion Line, was un­der­go­ing surgery for his wounds.

Suh said the South had also in­formed the North on Mon­day of the sol­dier and his treat­ment, via loud­speak­ers on the bor­der. North Korea has in the past com­plained that North Korean de­fec­tors had been ab­ducted by South Korea, and it has de­manded their re­lease. This month, the North de­manded that South Korea re­turn 12 wait­resses it said had been kid­napped while work­ing in China in 2016. South Korea said the 12 women, and one man, had cho­sen to de­fect to the South. Mon­day was the first time since 2007 a North Korean sol­dier had de­fected across the JSA.— Reuters

PAJU, South Korea: A man looks through binoc­u­lars to­wards North Korea from a South Korean ob­ser­va­tion post near the De­mil­i­ta­rized Zone (DMZ) di­vid­ing the two Koreas yes­ter­day. — AFP

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