North Kore­ans fired 40 shots at de­fec­tor, says South’s mil­i­tary

The Guardian - - INTERNATIONAL -

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.

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