SOUTH KOREA

South Korean soldier who killed five captured alive after shooting himself

Military says conscript shot himself in the side following stand-off with thousands of troops

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 June, 2014, 11:27am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 June, 2014, 9:31pm
AFP

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A South Korean military conscript who killed five members of his unit was captured on Monday after shooting himself in the side following a stand-off with thousands of troops, the defence ministry said.

“He shot himself in the side and we have captured him alive,” a ministry spokesman said, adding that the 22-year-old sergeant had been taken to hospital.

Thousands of soldiers backed by special forces units and army helicopters had surrounded the conscript, identified by his family name Lim, after he was tracked down on Sunday afternoon to a forested area south of the heavily militarised frontier with North Korea.

Armed with a K-2 assault rifle and a stash of ammunition, Lim went on the run on Saturday night after killing five fellow soldiers and wounding seven others at a frontline border outpost.

Prior to turning his gun on himself, Lim had spoken via a mobile phone with his parents who had urged him to surrender.

An army officer who requested anonymity told Yonhap news agency that Lim had been in tears when he asked troops to hand the phone over to his father.  

"He talked to his parents for several minutes, and they pleaded with him to surrender,” the officer was quoted as saying.

A defence ministry spokesman said Lim, who apparently had a record of instability, had been tracked and cornered just before 2.30pm on Sunday near an elementary school 10km from the border.

"He shot at the pursuing troops and they returned fire," the spokesman said, adding that one officer had been wounded in the arm.

As night fell, Lim was believed to be holed up in a section of forest on a hill behind the school.

Some 500 residents of a nearby village, most of them elderly, were evacuated from their homes to another school building as a precaution.

"I've never known anything like this in my life," a 60-year-old villager told Yonhap news agency. "I stayed up all of last night. My children live far away and they're very worried about me."

According to the military, Lim was due to be discharged in the next few months after completing his compulsory service.

All those killed or wounded in Saturday's incident were members of the 22nd infantry division, in the province of Gangwon.

Thousands of soldiers took part in the search for the fugitive, including special forces units, as army helicopters scanned the area from above. Lim had difficulty adapting to the military, and past psychological evaluations had advised senior officers to pay him special attention, said a defence ministry official who wished to remain anonymous.

In 1984 a private belonging to the same division opened fire and threw a grenade at fellow soldiers in their barracks, killing 15. He then defected to the North.

The site of Saturday's shooting is just south of the demilitarised zone, a buffer strip that runs the full length of the 250km frontier. Because the 1950-53 Korean war ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas technically remain at war.

Many of the South Korean soldiers on border duty are young male recruits doing their mandatory two-year military service.

These young men make up a large part of the South's 691,000-strong troop presence, compared to 1.17 million in the North.

The defence ministry issued an apology over the incident.

"We pray for the souls of the victims and express our deepest regret for the victims, the injured and their families," it said.