SEOUL, South Korea
The South Korean Military and the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCOS) are reporting that earlier on Monday, a North Korean soldier thought to have been stationed near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), defected to South Korea.
The soldier was fired upon by North Korean patrols as he attempted to negotiate his way through guard stations (see photo left) and across the DMZ to the South Korean side.
The area where the defection took place was in Panmunjom in North Hwanghae Province, where the armistice that halted the Korean war was signed in 1953.
Though it was halted indefinitely, no actual truce or peace treaty has ever been signed and agreed to, hence the day to day tension along the DMZ.
The place where the soldier made a break for the South, is the site of the Joint Security Area (JSA). This is the only point along the DMZ that border guards from both nations face each other daily.
Yesterday’s escape is only the most recent in a series of such military defections from North Korea. Another occurred in June of this year. But crossings at Panmunjom are quite a bit more rare. The last one effected at the JSA was in 2007 and before that 1998. Civilian defections annually take place by the thousands, but usually are effected along North Korea’s border with China.
The DMZ in its entirety, as the BBC notes, “is a strip of land 250km (155 miles) long and 4km (2.5 miles) wide that runs across the Korean Peninsula, heavily mined and fortified with barbed wire, rows of surveillance cameras and electric fencing.”
As to the young man’s condition, South Korean news agency, Yonhap News and other sources are reporting that the bullet wounds he sustained in his sprint to freedom – hitting him in the shoulder and elbow and he is being treated in a South Korean medical facility.
Surgeons soon learned that he had also been shot in the abdomen and the intestinal damage was life threatening. The man is believed to be a low-ranking soldier and not a source of keen intel value.
Piecing together the events leading up to the soldier’s sprint through the JSA, authorities are saying that he came to the area in a jeep type vehicle, brought it to a sudden halt and then bolted for the Southern guard complex.
Suh Wook, chief director of operations with the South Korean JCOS told officials that the man’s fellow troops fired approximately 40 rounds of ammo at him after a wheel on his FWD vehicle came loose and he raced toward the JSA on foot.
The man, who has yet to be identified, was immediately flown to the emergency medical center (photo right) in a U.N. Command helicopter.
“Until this morning, we heard he had no consciousness and was unable to breathe on his own but his life can be saved,” Suh said.
Suh also described to his audience of reporters and government officials that the soldier sustained 7 bullets, two of which could not be safely extracted. Someone commented that the event seemed “right out of a movie” and indeed it does. The man collapsed from his injuries 50 meters (150ft.) South of the demarcation line separating the two nations.
As a matter of routine, when the soldier recovers, he will be interviewed by South Korean military and intelligence personnel, to not only learn about his circumstances, but to determine if the defection is in fact what it seems on the surface. But having sustained 7 rifle shot wounds and targeted by 40 rounds, that seems a foregone conclusion.
There was more going on in the border zone as well – in this case an American, identified only as “A” from Louisiana who was apprehended by South Korean military units as he was attempting to cross the DMZ heading to the North.
The motive for the attempt has not yet been disclosed.
There are an array of loudspeakers facing North Korea along the DMZ and the South used them to broadcast to the North that the soldier is being treated.
What else the South Koreans told their hostile neighbors was not reported.