De­fec­tor shot five times in dra­matic es­cape

Sol­dier fled over JSA af­ter crash­ing jeep

Bangkok Post - - ASIA -

SEOUL: Four North Korean sol­diers fired 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 since 1984, the South’s mil­i­tary said yes­ter­day.

South Korean sol­diers did not fire their weapons, but Mon­day’s in­ci­dent oc­curred at a time of high an­i­mos­ity over North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gramme.

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 (JSA). 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 Cen­tre 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 be­fore he left the ve­hi­cle af­ter 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 40 rounds in a shoot­ing that his of­fice said was be­lieved to have started while the sol­dier was in the jeep.

The sol­dier 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 cen­ter, ac­cord­ing to South Korean of­fi­cials.

Py­ongyang has ex­pressed in­tense anger over past high-pro­file de­fec­tions.

The North’s of­fi­cial me­dia hasn’t re­ported about the case, but it pre­vi­ously ac­cused of Seoul of kid­nap­ping or en­tic­ing its cit­i­zens to de­fect. About 30,000 North Kore­ans have fled to South Korea, mostly travel via China, since the end of the 195053 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. There are a clus­ter of blue huts strad­dling blocks of con­crete that forms the bor­der line and other build­ing in the area.

It’s lo­cated in­side the 4km mine-strewn Demil­i­tarised Zone (DMZ), whose north­ern and south­ern bound­aries are guarded by barbed wire fences and com­bat troops. It’s cre­ated as a buf­fer zone when the three­year Korean War ended with an armistice in 1953.

Mon­day’s shoot­ing was the first at the JSA 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 even af­ter the de­fec­tor was of­fi­cially in the south­ern part of the JSA. The UN Com­mand said yes­ter­day that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the in­ci­dent was un­der way.

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, when 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.

EPA-EFE/ YONHAP

A North Korean sol­dier is rushed into a hos­pi­tal in South Korea af­ter be­ing shot as he de­fected across the bor­der on Mon­day.

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