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North Korea

Doctors uncertain about wounded North Korean soldier who made dash for the South under hail of gunfire

His former comrades shot up to 40 rounds at him as he rushed to cross the border

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 November, 2017, 7:14pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 November, 2017, 11:14pm

The condition of a North Korean soldier severely wounded by gunfire while escaping to South Korea is gradually improving after two surgeries but it is too early to tell whether he will make a recovery, hospital officials said on Saturday

While the soldier’s vital signs are stabilising, he continues to remain unconscious and relying on a breathing machine. After consecutive surgeries to repair internal organ damage and other injuries, no further surgeries are planned as of yet, said Shin Mi-jeong, an official at the Ajou University Medical Centre near Seoul.

The unarmed soldier, whose name and rank have not been disclosed, defected to the South on Monday by driving a military jeep near a line that divides the Koreas at the Joint Security Area and then rushing across it under a barrage of bullets.

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While treating the wounds, surgeons removed dozens of parasites from the soldier’s ruptured small intestine, including presumed roundworms that were as long as 27cm, which may be reflective of poor nutrition and health in North Korea’s military. Doctors measured the soldier as being 1.7 metres tall, but weighing just 60kg.

“I spent more than 20 years of experience as a surgeon, but I have not found parasites this big in the intestines of South Koreans,” Lee Cook-jong, who leads the soldier’s medical team, told reporters earlier this week.

Lee is a famous trauma specialist who was hailed as a hero in 2011 after conducting life-saving surgeries on the captain of a South Korean freighter ship who was shot during a rescue mission after being held by Somali pirates.

South Korea’s military said four North Korean soldiers used handguns and AK rifles to fire about 40 rounds at their former comrade, who was hit at least five times. He was found under a pile of leaves on the southern side of the Joint Security Area, and South Korean troops crawled there to recover him. A United Nations Command helicopter later transported him to the Ajou hospital.

It was unclear whether the North Koreans chasing the soldier fired at him even after he crossed into the southern side of the border, which would be a violation of an armistice agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean war. The UN Command, which is investigating the incident, postponed a plan to release video footage of the soldier’s escape on Thursday.

The JSA is jointly overseen by the American-led UN Command and by North Korea, with South Korean and North Korean border guards facing each other only metres apart. It is located inside the 4km-wide demilitarised zone, which forms the de facto border between the Koreas since the Korean war.