Flee­ing soldier to sur­vive hail of bul­lets

North Korean mil­i­tary fires on de­fect­ing coun­try­man

Business Day - - FRONT PAGE - Chris­tine Kim Seoul

A North Korean soldier was ex­pected to sur­vive crit­i­cal wounds he re­ceived when his old com­rades fired at him as he made a defection dash to South Korea.

A North Korean soldier was 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 on Tues­day.

On Mon­day, the soldier sped to­wards the bor­der in the heav­ily guarded demil­i­tarised 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, the chief di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions at South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff, Suh Wook, told leg­is­la­tors. “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 leg­is­la­tors, 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 inside the demil­i­tarised zone be­tween the two Koreas.

South Korean and US sol­diers, fear­ing more North Korean fire, later crawled to him to res­cue him, the UN 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 on Tues­day, 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, which has been in place since the end of the war, said an in­ves­ti­ga­tion was be­ing con­ducted.

South Korean De­fence Min­is­ter Song Young-moo said it was the first time North Korean sol­diers had fired to­wards the South’s side of the joint se­cu­rity area, prompt­ing com­plaints from some leg­is­la­tors that the South’s mil­i­tary should have re­turned fire.

A South Korean mil­i­tary spokesman said mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions at the joint se­cu­rity area were usu­ally con­ducted un­der the or­ders of the UN Com­mand, which is, in turn, un­der or­ders from the US mil­i­tary.

The soldier, who was not armed, was flown in a UN Com­mand he­li­copter to an op­er­at­ing the­atre, where doc­tors be­gan work­ing to save him. 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 were un­der strict se­cu­rity agency or­ders not to talk to me­dia, work­ers there said.

/AFP Photo

An­other coun­try: A man looks through binoc­u­lars to­wards North Korea on Tues­day from a South Korean ob­ser­va­tion post in Paju near the demil­i­tarised zone di­vid­ing the two Koreas

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