Around 40 gunshots were fired from the North at a North Korean soldier who defected to South Korea via the Joint Security Area, South Korea’s military said Tuesday.
He remains in critical condition at a hospital in South Korea, where he has received surgery for his injuries. Five bullets – including those from an AK-47 assault rifle – were found on his body, according to South Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff.
North Korea has yet to comment on the incident, the first JSA defection to the South in 10 years. While being surrounded by military outposts and minefields, JSA is a sought-after tourist destination for foreign visitors.
“Our assessment is that three North Korean soldiers and another from the North’s military outpost chased him as he fled, firing shots,” JCS top operational chief, Army Gen. Suh Wook, said during a meeting with lawmakers.
Doctor Lee Kuk-jong tells reporters about the condition of the North Korean soldier hospitalized at Ajou University Medical Center in South Korea on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
The soldier drove a jeep toward the Military Demarcation Line, which bisects the two Koreas inside the JSA, until it became stuck in a ditch and could not move forward. The soldier jumped out of the vehicle and ran to the South, the JCS said
Alongside the United Nations Command, which assumes operational control inside the JSA, the South Korean military is investigating whether North Korea violated an armistice agreement in their response to the defection.
When asked about whether North Korea fired shots into the UNC-controlled area, the JCS said they had yet to confirm such evidence. South Korea’s Defense Minster Song Young-moo, however, told lawmakers that “it was the first incident in which North Korean bullets had flown across the border inside the JSA.”
“We have yet to find evidence of North Korean bullets south of the MDL,” said a JCS official under the condition of anonymity. “If we found any violation of the armistice agreement, we will file a complaint toward North Korea.”
The UNC, which also confirmed that fleeing soldier was fired upon by other North Korean soldiers, said they have notified North Korea that the soldier was medically treated following the gunshot and an investigation into the incident is underway.
The soldier can be seen in surveillance footage being chased by North Korean soldiers at 3:14 p.m. on Monday, according to the JCS. Seventeen minutes later, the soldier was found collapsed in bushes 50 meters south of the MDL, bleeding heavily. A South Korean battalion commander crawled to the injured soldier and dragged him out of harm’s way at 3:56 p.m., the JCS said.
The defector was then transported to Ajou University Medical Center and underwent surgery for about five hours, the JSA added. The soldier had been hit in the elbow and shoulders, along with two shots in his abdomen.
“So far, five bullets have been removed from his body and we are paying attention to seven injured organs. After monitoring the developments for a couple of days, we will proceed with another surgery,” the JCS official told reporters.
During the process, there was no exchange of fire between the two Koreas, as South Korea did not react.
(Photo by Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
“I think our soldiers did a good job. They made a good judgment call to minimize the risk and deal with the North Korean soldier appropriately,” South Korea’s Defense Minister Song Yong-moo told the lawmakers Tuesday.
JCS operational chief Gen. Seo wook told lawmakers that it is still unclear whether the North Korean soldiers fired shots toward the UNC-controlled southern portion of the MDL even after the defected solider crossed the border.
Military officials said that if the North Korean soldiers were found to have fired shots inside the South, it would be a violation of the armistice agreement that ended the 1950-1953 Korean War.
The rules of engagement inside the JSA largely consists of two parts: whether there was a direct threat to the South Korean and UNC forces and whether the situation runs the risk of escalation, Gen. Seo told the lawmakers.
“Through the UNC armistice committee, we will demand appropriate measures by the North,” said the minister. “If North Korea rejects the offer, we have no choice but to take the necessary legal steps and announce a statement.”
By Yeo Jun-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)