New details have emerged about the North Korean soldier that was shot by his own troops as he fled across the demilitarized zone separating the two Korean states. While around 1,000 North Koreans defect to the South per year, it is extremely uncommon to do so directly across the heavily patrolled DMZ, and even more uncommon for it to be one of the very soldiers tasked with preventing such a defection.
According to reports from the region, five North Korean soldiers opened fire on the defector as he made his break for freedom. The North Korean troops fired somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 rounds, hitting the soldier with five. This marks the first time shots have been fired in the DMZ in more than 30 years. South Korean troops did not return fire.
According to the South Korean military, the soldier first approached the DMZ in a military Jeep, and was already taking fire before he abandoned the vehicle after one of its wheels fell into a ditch. He then fled on foot, with North Korean soldiers in pursuit and firing their weapons at him. According to South Korean reports, this was witnessed by border guards via an unspecified surveillance system they have installed in the area.
The soldier was then found hiding beneath a pile of leaves just south of the demilitarized zone and inside South Korean territory, but because they remained in range of North Korean rifles, South Korean troops crawled to his aid before evacuating him on a U.N. helicopter.
Few details have been released thus far regarding the identity or motive of the defecting North Korean soldier. South Korean officials did tell the media, however, that he had to undergo a five-hour surgery upon his arrival at a South Korean hospital. Early reports indicated that the soldier was injured in the elbow and shoulder, but little else has been released regarding his condition or prognosis, with officials saying only that he suffered damage to his internal organs but his condition is not life threatening.
However, reports from the hospital the soldier is being treated in, the Ajou University Medical Center near Seoul, indicate the defector may be in worse condition than officials say. Lee Guk-jong, the doctor leading the team in charge of the defecting soldier’s care, told the media that the soldier is currently relying on a breathing machine and characterized his condition as “very dangerous.” According to the doctor, the next ten days of treatment will likely determine whether or not the defector will ever recover from his wounds.
North Korean soldiers defected in a similar fashion in 1998 and 2007, but neither event resulted in gunfire. The North Korean soldiers’ violent attempt to kill their peer as he fled Kim’s regime was within the standing orders given to border patrol guards, but their fervor to comply may be the result of ever-heightening tensions between North Korea and their neighbor to the South, including South Korea’s primarily military ally, the United States.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press