A North Korean soldier was shot and wounded by his own troops as he defected across the demilitarized zone into South Korea on Monday.

While it’s not uncommon to hear stories of North Korean citizens fleeing the reclusive state in search of a better life beyond the secure borders of Kim-controlled territory, border crossings at the demilitarized zone directly into South Korea are rather rare, as both nation’s militaries maintain a constant presence at the border.  North Korean soldiers are instructed to shoot and kill potential defectors before they’re able to make it across the invisible line dividing the formerly unified state, though in this instance it was one of the soldiers themselves that chose to flee.

Reports indicate the North Korean soldier was wounded in the elbow and shoulder, though it was not immediately clear if he was hit multiple times or if both injuries were the result of a single round fired by North Korean troops as the soldier fled toward freedom.  The wounded soldier was spotted about 50 meters south of the demilitarized zone in the border town of Panmunjom.  Because the defector was still within range of North Korean rifles, South Korean troops low-crawled to the wounded man and dragged him to safety before air lifting him for medical treatment.

“The defector was urgently transferred to hospital in a helicopter of the United Nations Command, and there was no exchange of fire with our side,” the South Korean Ministry of Defense official told the media.  “Since it was an area exposed to the North, we had to crawl toward there to get him out,” the official added.

On average, some 1,000 North Koreans successfully defect to South Korea each year, though the route is often a longer, more elaborate one that remains rife with danger.  Most defectors are smuggled through China, where they face the risk of being caught and returned to North Korea for punishment in labor camps–one fate among a litany of other terrible possibilities, like being sold into slavery.  Most caught defectors are not alone in their punishments, as North Korean policy allows for the punishment to be shared among three generations of one’s family; meaning the defectors parents and children often share their sentence.

Nonetheless, crossings directly into South Korea at the DMZ are not unheard of, and another North Korean citizen successfully accomplished the feat as recently as June.

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These defections come amidst a period of heightening tensions between North Korea and the United States.  Over the past year, Kim Jong Un’s regime has ramped up the development and production of nuclear weapons, as well as ballistic missile platforms intended to deliver them, prompting a series of new sanctions to be levied on the nation by both the U.S. and the United Nations.  These sanctions, which are intended to strangle enough funding from North Korea’s already meager economy to force Kim to negotiate the denuclearization of his regime, will likely exacerbate systemic issues within what some have characterized as the “hermit nation,” which may prompt a surge in attempts to defect to the South.

U.S. President Donald Trump is currently conducting an Indo-Pacific tour intended to help bolster support for the North Korean denuclearization effort among allies and diplomatic opponents alike, with stops in Nations like South Korea, Vietnam and China.

 

Image courtesy of the Associated Press