N. Korea found to have fired 40 shots at defector in truce village

Lim Chang-won Reporter Posted : 2017-11-14 15:36 Updated : 2017-11-14 16:22
글씨작게 글씨크게

South Korea's defense ministry officials give a briefing over the defection of a North Korean border guard to lawmakers at a meeting held on Tuesday. [Yonhap Photo]

North Korean border guards fired about 40 shots in an attempt to stop the defection of their apparent colleague aboard a jeep, creating a dangerous situation in a jointly guarded truce village in the middle of the heavily armed border, military authorities said.

The run in the truce village of Panmunjom on Monday was watched closely by South Korean and U.S. troops using security cameras, and Defense Minister Song Young-moo praised their cool and restrained handling to prevent an escalation of the dangerous situation.

A North Korean border guard, who received multiple gunshot wounds while he defected through a jointly guarded truce village in the middle of the heavily armed border between South Korean and North Korea, is being carried into an emergency room at Aju University Hospital on November 13. [Yonhap Photo]

Song promised to lodge a protest through a military armistice commission controlled by the United Nations Command (UNC), which oversees a truce accord signed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean conflict. Troops from the United States and other countries fought alongside South Korea under a U.N. flag to repel North Korea's invasion.

The buffer zone around Panmunjom, the only inter-Korean contact point inside the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) which bisects the Korean peninsula, has been guarded jointly by North Korea and American troops. South Korean troops have no jurisdiction over Panmunjom but send border guards to help American troops. Across an imaginary borderline, both sides are locked in a face-to-face standoff.

Initially, the defector, unharmed and clad in a low-grade North Korean military uniform, used a jeep but he got off his jeep to run after its wheels fell into a drain short of the borderline, according to the South's Joint Chiefs of Staf (JCS).

His desperate 50-meter final run sparked a barrage of shots from three chasers and a North Korean soldier stationed in a nearby guard post, JCS officials said in a regular briefing and at a parliamentary committee. North Korean guards were accused of using pistols and AK-47 rifles.

In a separate statement, the UNC said the man "initially took cover near a building on the southern side of the joint security area, but JCS officials said he was found groaning on the ground covered with fallen leaves about 50 meters south of the borderline.
Three South Korean officers pulled him away in a crawling approach after the situation was put under control 27 minutes later, they said.

Usually, North Korean soldiers are armed with pistols for open patrolling inside Panmunjom, but they have rifles kept in their guard posts. Outside the small buffer area, armored vehicles and other heavy weapons are on standby.

A UNC helicopter had transported him to Ajou University Hospital in Suwon south of Seoul for treatment of multiple gunshots to his solder, abdomen and thigh.

Doctor Lee Guk-jong told reporters that the man was unconscious in an intensive care unit after a five-hour operation, describing his condition as "critical". He said penetrating wounds damaged and contaminated internal organs that would require additional operations.

The rare defection through Panmunjom came amid high tensions caused by Pyongyang's missile and nuclear tests, did not escalate into a cross-border exchange of shooting. Two North Korean soldiers defected through Panmunjom in 1998 and 2007.

Despite tight border control and surveillance, North Koreans have escaped their hometowns in the North. There have been occasional defections through the DMZ dotted with landmines, electric fences, concrete walls and the heavy presence of border guards.