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(5th LD) N. Korean soldier drove car before defecting to S. Korea: UNC

2017/11/14 14:58

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(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 12-15)

SEOUL, Nov. 14 (Yonhap) -- An apparent North Korean soldier who defected to South Korea via the truce village of Panmunjom earlier this week drove a car to the area, the authorities said Tuesday.

"(He) then exited the vehicle and continued fleeing south" across the military demarcation line (MDL) after being shot by North Korean troops, according to the United Nations Command (UNC).

The individual, presumed to be a North Korean soldier, "initially took cover near a building on the southern side of the JSA," the UNC said, using the abbreviation for the Joint Security Area.

An apparent North Korean soldier, shot by fellow troops while defecting to South Korea, is transported to a local hospital on Nov. 13, 2017 (Yonhap) An apparent North Korean soldier, shot by fellow troops while defecting to South Korea, is transported to a local hospital on Nov. 13, 2017 (Yonhap)

He was recovered by South Korean and U.S. soldiers later Monday and transported to a hospital south of Seoul, as he had been hit by multiple gunshots while running away from the North in the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ).

He underwent an operation at Ajou University Hospital in Suwon and is still unconscious.

He's in critical condition, and it's unclear whether he will live, given the seriousness of the wound, according to Lee Guk-jong, a doctor at the hospital.

"(We) will have to ride out the crucial moments (in his recovery) over the next 10 days," he told reporters.

The South's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) confirmed that the North Korean man approached the JSA by car at around 3:15 p.m. Monday.

This composite image represents a North Korean soldier defecting to South Korea via the Joint Security Area on the inter-Korean border. (Yonhap) This composite image represents a North Korean soldier defecting to South Korea via the Joint Security Area on the inter-Korean border. (Yonhap)

The car sped towards a guard post but its wheels fell into a nearby drain, the JCS spokesman Army Col. Roh Jae-cheon said. At the time of the defection, the soldier was clad in the Korean People's Army uniform and had no weapon, he added.

"We closely monitored the situation with a surveillance system," Roh said.

At a parliamentary defense committee session, Suh Wook, the chief director of operations at the JCS, said that Seoul's military believes four North Korean soldiers fired about 40 shots towards their runaway comrade.

"Three North Korean soldiers, along with one from a guard post, went after him and fired at him," Suh said. "At 3:31 p.m., we detected one defector who fell to the ground among fallen leaves 50 meters from the MDL," he added.

At the same session, Defense Minister Song Young-moo said the incident marked the first time the North had fired shots into the South Korean side of the JSA.

Song simply answered, "Yes," when Liberty Korea Party Rep. Chung Jin-suk asked him if this was indeed the first such case.

As for the South Korean military's response, Song said, "I think our military minimized the damage and handled the defected soldier well in such a short period of time."

   When pressed if North Korea had violated the terms of the armistice, Song said he would ask the UNC's Military Armistice Committee (UNCMAC) to take appropriate measures.

"If our request is not met, then we'll have no choice but to take legal steps and release a statement, among other measures," Song added.

There was no report of any exchange of fire between the two Koreas.

A North Korean soldier defected to the South via the JSA in 1998 and another in 2007.

The UNCMAC is looking into the incident.

South and North Korean soldiers face off with each other at the truce village of Panmunjom in this file photo. (Yonhap) South and North Korean soldiers face off with each other at the truce village of Panmunjom in this file photo. (Yonhap)

lcd@yna.co.kr

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