American detained trying to enter North Korea on same day soldier shot in daring escape to South
The demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas was the scene of an unusual amount of action on Monday as an American unsuccessfully tried to cross into the North and a North Korean soldier succeeded in defecting to the South
A North Korean soldier shot while defecting to the South on has undergone several surgical procedures and is in a critical condition, as it emerged that an American man unsuccessfully tried to cross into the North.
“Until this morning, we heard he had no consciousness and was unable to breathe on his own but his life can be saved,” said Suh Uk, a South Korean military official who was briefing lawmakers regarding Monday’s defection involving the North Korean soldier.
Five bullets had been extracted from the soldier’s body so far, leaving an estimated two inside, Suh said on Tuesday.
Lee Cook-jong, the surgeon in charge of the soldier’s treatment, told reporters earlier that his condition was critical due to intestinal damage caused by the bullets.
The soldier had sped towards the border in a vehicle when a wheel came loose, forcing him to escape on foot under fire from North Korean soldiers who shot around 40 rounds at him, Suh said.
North Korea’s military took action when the defector was spotted in the four wheel drive heading towards the border alone, Roh Jae-cheon, a spokesman for the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a media briefing on Tuesday.
The soldier took cover behind a South Korean structure within the Joint Security Area (JSA) inside the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas and was later rescued by South Korean and US soldiers at the border, the United Nations Command (UNC) said in a separate statement.
It said the soldier had been shot by several North Korean soldiers.
He was found unarmed and taken to surgery while still in his uniform, which indicated he held a lower rank, Suh said. South Korean officials have yet to identify exactly where the soldier came from and what his intentions were.
The fact that the defector drove to the frontier suggests he may not have been a member of the elite corps of North Korean troops posted to Panmunjom, who are carefully vetted and selected for their loyalty.
The military armistice commission of the United Nations said in the same UNC statement it had told the North Korean military that the soldier, who was found about 50 metres south of the Military Demarcation Line, was undergoing surgery for his gunshot wounds.
Suh also said the South had later told the North on Monday of the soldier and his ongoing treatment via loudspeakers installed at the border.
The United Nations Command said an investigation into the event was ongoing. It was the first time since 2007 a North Korean soldier had defected across the JSA.
No tourists were present at the time, because tours do not run on Mondays.
However the demilitarised zone was the scene of an unusual amount of action that day as a 58-year-old man from Louisiana was arrested by South Korean forces for crossing the civilian control line just outside the DMZ.
It was part of an attempt to get into North Korea “for political purposes”, authorities said. A resident of the border county of Yeoncheon, 65km north of Seoul, saw the man and alerted police, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
The man, identified only as “A”, arrived in South Korea three days earlier.
The US embassy in Seoul was aware of the report and was looking into it, an official said.
“If it is determined that a US citizen has been detained, the US embassy will provide appropriate consular services,” he said.
Reuters, The Washington Post, Agence France-Presse