N. Korean soldier shot 5 times in dar­ing DMZ dash

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - BY ANNA FI­FIELD

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 escape 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 movie script. Among its dra­matic de­tails: The soldier was shot five times by his coun­try­men as he ran south Mon­day.

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

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

Five bul­lets smashed into the es­cap­ing soldier, hit­ting his shoul­der, stom­ach and el­bow, but he still made it 50 yards over the di­vid­ing line and took cover be­hind a build­ing on the south­ern side. Al­most 20 min­utes later, a South Korean 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 on 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 the com­ing days.

The soldier suf­fered a se­ri­ous gun­shot wound to his stom­ach that af­fected seven in­ter­nal or­gans.

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 the area was in 2007 and, be­fore that, in 1998.

But this in­ci­dent marked 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 proved to have fired shots through the area, that would con­sti­tute a breach of the armistice agree­ment.

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

The area is a pop­u­lar place for tourists and vis­it­ing of­fi­cials, not least be­cause once inside the squat, blue-painted meet­ing build­ings 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 a Mon­day, when tours do not run.

Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son was pho­tographed by North Korean sol­diers while he stood inside one of the build­ings dur­ing a visit to the DMZ in March.

Vice Pres­i­dent Pence vis­ited the area in Septem­ber, warn­ing Pyongyang not to test the “strength and re­solve” of the United States.

Pres­i­dent Trump at­tempted to visit the DMZ dur­ing his visit to South Korea last week, al­though it was not clear if he was head­ing to the Joint Se­cu­rity Area. His he­li­copter had to turn back be­cause of bad weather.

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