North Korean troops briefly crossed into South Korea while chasing one of their fellow soldiers who defected earlier this month, violating the armistice that ended the Korean War, the U.S.-led United Nations command said Wednesday.
At a live TV briefing, the command released dramatic video showing the unidentified soldier speeding down a tree-lined road past shocked North Korean soldiers, who begin to run after him. He crashes the jeep near the line that divides North and South in the so-called “truce village” of Panmunjom, where North and South Korean soldiers face each other at their closest distance just feet away.
Soldiers from the North sprint to the area, firing their weapons 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 gather on their side of the line.
Surprisingly, North and South Korean soldiers didn’t exchange fire in the first shooting in the area in more than three decades.
U.S. Army Col. Chad G. Carroll, a spokesman for 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.
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.
North Korea hasn’t responded and its official media haven’t reported on the case. The North has previously accused South Korea of kidnapping or enticing North Koreans to defect. About 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea, mostly via China, since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
South Korea’s military has said North Korean soldiers used handguns and AK rifles to fire about 40 rounds at their former comrade, who was hit at least five times.
The JSA, jointly overseen by the American-led U.N. Command and by North Korea, is inside the 2.5-mile-wide Demilitarized Zone, which has been the de facto border between the Koreas since the war.
Meanwhile, the South Korean news agency Yonhap reportedthat the North Korean soldier had regained consciousness after undergoing two surgeries at Ajou University Hospital in Suwon, south of Seoul. One South Korean official told Yonhap the soldier was able to talk to doctors and requested to watch television in his room.
The official added that the soldier was suffering from “fear and heavy stress” from his ordeal and was being treated with “psychotherapy.” A South Korean flag had “apparently” been placed in the soldier’s room in an attempt to improve his mental state.
Hospital official Shin Mi-jeong confirmed to the Associated Press that the soldier is conscious and is no longer relying on a breathing machine. 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.
While treating the wounds, surgeons removed dozens of parasites from the soldier’s ruptured small intestine, including presumed roundworms that were as long as 10.6 inches, which may reflect poor nutrition and health in North Korea’s military. The soldier is 5 feet, 7 inches tall but weighs just 132 pounds.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.