NoKor sol­dier se­ri­ously wounded as he dashes across bor­der

Business World - - THE WORLD -

SEOUL — 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 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 in a state­ment.

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 half-a-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 told re­porters.

“His or­gans are ex­tremely dam­aged… we do not know how long he can hold up,” Mr. 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 tourist 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 Korean War hos­til­i­ties was signed at Pan­munjom, and it has since hosted nu­mer­ous rounds of in­terKorean talks — some­times held in huts that strad­dle both sides of the bor­der line.

The fact that 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. No tourists were present at the time, be­cause tours do not run on Mon­days.

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

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

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 off icial said he was found col­lapsed in a pile of leaves and re­cov­ered by three South Korean sol­diers crawl­ing on their stom­achs to his po­si­tion.

There have been pre­vi­ous de­fec­tions at Pan­munjom, most notably in 1984 when Vasily Yakovle­vich Matu­zok — an elite stu­dent from Moscow who was be­ing groomed to be­come a Soviet diplo­mat — sprinted across the bor­der and trig­gered a 30-minute gun bat­tle that left four dead.

Vis­it­ing the bor­der vil­lage with a del­e­ga­tion, Mr. Matu­zok asked a col­league to take his pic­ture, backed closer to the de­mar­ca­tion line and then sud­denly turned and made a run for it. North Korean guards im­me­di­ately drew their weapons and set off in pur­suit. The mo­ment they crossed the line, a shoot­ing match erupted and Mr. Matu­zok was for­got­ten as the ri­val troops en­gaged on the South side of the bor­der.

It was the great­est loss of life to oc­cur in what is tech­ni­cally called the Joint Se­cu­rity Area.

An­other gun bat­tle was recorded in 1967 when a se­nior jour­nal­ist from the North’s state-run KCNA news agency crossed the bor­der while cov­er­ing mil­i­tary talks un­der­way in Pan­munjom. —

SOUTH KOREAN mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, wear­ing arm­bands of the Joint Se­cu­rity Area of Pan­munjom, talk with a doc­tor at a hos­pi­tal in Su­won, south of Seoul, where the wounded North Korean de­fec­tor was rushed for treat­ment, in this Nov. 13 photo.

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