De­fect­ing N. Korea sol­dier fight­ing for life

Man was shot five times as he ran across the DMZ.

Dayton Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - By Anna Fi­field

The blitz across one of the world’s most closely pa­trolled bor­ders in­cluded the sol­dier be­ing shot 5 times.

TOKYO — A North Korean sol­dier was fight­ing for his life Tues­day in a South Korean hos­pi­tal as new de­tails emerged from his brazen dash for free­dom across the Demil­i­ta­rized Zone.

The blitz across one of the world’s most closely pa­trolled bor­ders — the first such mil­i­tary de­fec­tion in a decade — has riv­eted the re­gion with el­e­ments that read like a scene from a movie, in­clud­ing the sol­dier be­ing shot five times by his coun­try­men as he ran south Mon­day.

It oc­curred in one of the few spots that such an at­tempt is pos­si­ble: the Joint Se­cu­rity Area in the truce vil­lage of Pan­munjom, the only part of the heav­ily for­ti­fied DMZ where North Kore­ans and South Kore­ans face each other.

The sol­dier drove a jeep to­ward a guard post in the Joint Se­cu­rity Area just af­ter 3 p.m. Mon­day, said Col. Roh Jae-cheon, a spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But the wheels of the car got stuck in a ditch. The sol­dier, who was wear­ing a North Korean Peo­ple’s Army uni­form but was not car­ry­ing a weapon, jumped out of the ve­hi­cle and ran to­ward the de­mar­ca­tion line that runs through the DMZ.

Four North Korean sol­diers chased af­ter him, fir­ing at least 40 rounds, in­clud­ing some with an AK-47 as­sault ri­fle, of­fi­cials said Tues­day af­ter re­view­ing se­cu­rity cam­era footage from the bor­der.

The man made it 50 yards over the di­vid­ing line and took cover be­hind a build­ing on the south­ern side of the line that sep­a­rates the two Koreas. Al­most 20 min­utes later, a south­ern sol­dier was able to crawl to the site and drag him to safety.

The in­jured man was air­lifted to a hos­pi­tal south of Seoul, where he was op­er­ated on by one of the South’s best trauma sur­geons. He was un­con­scious and in crit­i­cal con­di­tion Tues­day, the sur­geon in charge of the sol­dier’s treat­ment, Lee Cookjong, told re­porters.

“We will have to ride out some cru­cial mo­ments over the next 10 days,” Lee said. More surg­eries were ex­pected in com­ing days.

The sol­dier suf­fered gun­shot wounds to his shoul­der and el­bow, as well as a se­ri­ous wound to his stom­ach. Seven of his in­ter­nal or­gans were af­fected by the wounds.

Al­though there have been a hand­ful of de­fec­tions across the DMZ in re­cent years, es­capes through the tense Joint Se­cu­rity Area are rare. The last time a North Korean sol­dier de­fected through there was in 2007 and, be­fore that, in 1998.

But this in­ci­dent marks the first time since the Korean War ended in an ar­mistice in 1953 that shots have been fired through the Joint Se­cu­rity Area, de­fense min­is­ter Song Young-moo told law­mak­ers in Seoul on Tues­day. South Korean sol­diers did not re­turn fire.

If North Korea is proven to have fired shots through the area, this would con­sti­tute a breach of the ar­mistice agree­ment.

The United Na­tions Com­mand, which is run by the United States mil­i­tary and over­sees the Joint Se­cu­rity Area, said that it was in­ves­ti­gat­ing the in­ci­dent.

The area is a pop­u­lar place for tourists and vis­it­ing of­fi­cials, not least be­cause once in­side the blue meet­ing huts that strad­dle the bor­der, vis­i­tors can tech­ni­cally cross the line, al­though sol­diers guard the doors out to the other side.

How­ever, by good for­tune, the in­ci­dent hap­pened on Mon­day, when tours do not run.

Rex Tiller­son, the sec­re­tary of state, was pho­tographed by North Korean sol­diers while he stood in­side one of the huts dur­ing a visit to the DMZ in March.

LEE JIN-MAN / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A North Korean mil­i­tary guard out­post is seen Tues­day from Paju, South Korea. A North Korean sol­dier was shot Mon­day as he fled to the south.

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