SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A North Korean soldier races for the border in a jeep and then on foot before his former comrades shoot him at least five times as he limps into South Korea, where he collapses and is dragged to safety by southern soldiers on a dramatic video released by the U.S.-led U.N. command Wednesday.
The defection, subsequent surgeries and slow recovery of the soldier have riveted South Korea, but it will be a huge embarrassment for the North, which claims all defections are the result of rival Seoul kidnapping or enticing North Koreans to defect. Pyongyang has said nothing about the defection so far.
North Korea’s actions during the defector’s Nov. 13 escape at Panmunjom violated the armistice agreement ending the Korean War because North Korean soldiers fired across and physically crossed the border in pursuit of the soldier, Col. Chad G. Carroll, a spokesman for the U.N. command, told reporters in a live TV briefing.
The video shows the soldier speeding down a tree-lined road, headlights on, past dun-colored fields and shocked North Korean soldiers, who begin to run after him. He crashes the jeep into a ditch near the line that divides North and South and the blue huts familiar to anyone who’s toured the area, which is the part of the border where North and South Korean soldiers face each other at their closest distance just meters (feet) apart. There were no tour groups at the time of the defection, Carroll said.
Soldiers from the North sprint to the area, firing handguns and AK rifles — about 40 rounds, the South says — at the defector; one hurries across the dividing line before running back to the northern side. South Korean soldiers then crawl up to the defector, who has fallen injured in a mass of leaves against a small wall. They drag him to safety as North Korean troops begin to gather on their side of the line.
A U.N. Command helicopter later transported him to the Ajou University Medical Center near Seoul.
Surprisingly, North and South Korean soldiers didn’t exchange fire in the first shooting in the area in more than three decades.
The U.N. command said the North violated the armistice by “one, firing weapons across the MDL, and two, by actually crossing the MDL temporarily,” referring to the military demarcation line that bisects the Koreas. KPA stands for the North’s Korean People’s Army.
A U.N. Command statement said officials notified the North’s military of these violations and requested a meeting to discuss the investigation results and measures to prevent future such violations.
About 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea, mostly via China, since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
After undergoing two surgeries last week to repair internal organ damage and other injuries, the soldier is now conscious and no longer relies on a breathing machine, according to hospital official Shin Mi-jeong. While his condition is improving, doctors plan to keep him at the intensive care unit for at least several more days to guard against possible infections.
The JSA, jointly overseen by the American-led U.N. Command and by North Korea, is inside the 4-kilometer (2 1/2-mile) -wide Demilitarized Zone, which has been the de facto border between the Koreas since the war.
While treating the wounds, surgeons removed dozens of parasites from the soldier’s ruptured small intestine, including presumed roundworms that were as long as 27 centimeters (10.6 inches), which may reflect poor nutrition and health in North Korea’s military. The soldier is 1.7 meters (5 feet, 7 inches) tall but weighs just 60 kilograms (132 pounds).
AP writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.