North Koreans fired 40 shots at defector, says South’s military
North Korean soldiers fired about 40 rounds at a defector who fled into South Korea and hit him five times, the South’s military said yesterday.
South Korean soldiers did not fire their weapons, but Monday’s incident occurred at a time of heightened animosity over North Korea’s nuclear programme. It was the first shooting at the jointly controlled area of the heavily fortified border in more than 30 years. The North has expressed intense anger over past 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 (JSA). His personal details and motive for defection are unknown.
South Korea’s military said yesterday that he had suffered injuries to internal organs but was not in a life-threatening condition. The Ajou University medical centre near Seoul said the soldier was relying on a breathing machine after the surgery. 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 recovered.
He first drove a military four-wheeldrive during his escape but left the vehicle when one of its wheels fell into a ditch. He then fled across the JSA with North Korean soldiers chasing and firing at him, South Korea’s military said, citing unspecified surveillance systems installed in the area.
Suh Wook, the chief director of operations for South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff, told legislators that North Korean forces had fired a total of about 40 rounds.
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 took him to the Ajou medical centre, according to South Korean officials.
North Korea’s official media had not reported the case as of yesterday 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 since the end of the 1950-53 Korean war.
The JSA is jointly overseen by the USled UN command and by North Korea, with South Korean and North Korean border guards facing each other only metres apart. It is located inside the 2.5-mile-wide demilitarised zone.