On November 13th, a North Korean soldier thus far identified only by his surname, Oh, defected across the military exclusion zone dividing Kim Jong Un’s reclusive state from South Korea. North Korean troops in turn violated the armistice that ended the war between the two Koreas by firing their weapons into South Korea during the pursuit, and one soldier even crossed over the border as he gave chase.
The defector was hit at least five times by North Korean small arms fire as he fled, and South Korean border guards braved the possibility of being shot themselves, low crawling to the injured man and ultimately getting him to a UN helicopter to be evacuated for treatment. Days after, the United Nations released footage of the incident, clearly showing the North Koreans violating the terms of the Armistice, and issuing a request to North Korean official to arrange a meeting to discuss ways to prevent further transgressions in the future.
South Korean Minister of Defense Song Young-moo echoed the United Nations’ sentiment, issuing a warning to North Korean officials in a statement he delivered on Monday from the area Oh’s wounded body was recovered by South Korean troops. Nearby, three North Korean soldiers stood post near trees planted since the incident, listening closely to the statements made by South Korea’s senior defense official.
Shooting towards the South at a defecting person, that’s a violation of the armistice agreement,” Song said. “Crossing the military demarcation line, a violation. Carrying automatic rifles (in the JSA), another violation. North Korea should be informed this sort of thing should never occur again.”
“I ask the ROK and the U.S. troops here to maintain a watertight security posture so that they can immediately respond to any situation in accordance with the UNC rules of engagement while complying with the Armistice Agreement,” Song added.
He then pointed out two holes where North Korean rounds impacted South Korean buildings as they fired at the defecting soldier. North Korean troops fired somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 rounds during the pursuit. No South Korean soldiers returned fire.
Since the November 13th incident, North Korea has reportedly replaced most or potentially all of the troops assigned to the so-called Truce Village of Panmunjom, where the Joint Security Area allows for North and South Korean officials to meet. Tour groups also frequent the area, though none were present at the time of the defection. The North Korean portion of the JSA that Oh fled through has since been fortified by the new slew of North Korean troops, who added a number of trees and a trench to prevent others from following in Oh’s footsteps.
Oh, who underwent multiple surgeries and received more than three gallons of blood transfusions, is now conscious and recovering in a Seoul hospital. Doctors removed significant parasitic infections from his body as they worked to repair the damage caused by his gunshot wounds. He is said to have requested to listen to South Korean radio, and has had a South Korean flag hung in his room to help reassure him that he made it to safety.
South Korean border guards, meanwhile, have been broadcasting updates about Oh’s recovery over loudspeakers at the border, taunting the troops that aimed to end his life.
Images courtesy of the Associated Press