SEOUL, South Korea (AFP) – Dramatic footage of a North Korean soldier’s defection released Wednesday showed him racing across the border under fire from former comrades, and then being hauled to safety by South Korean troops.
The footage also showed a North Korean guard briefly crossing the border in hot pursuit before retreating — an incident the US-led United Nations Command described as a serious breach of the 1953 ceasefire that ended Korean War hostilities.
The defector was shot at least four times in his desperate escape bid at the Panmunjom truce village on November 13, and has been recovering in a South Korean hospital.
It is very rare for the North’s troops to defect at Panmunjom, a major tourist attraction and the only part of the border where forces from the two sides come face-to-face.
The video released by the UNC began by showing the defector’s vehicle traveling at speed along an empty road leading to the truce village before stopping near the heavily armed border.
He then got out of the jeep and ran, pursued by North Korean soldiers with their weapons drawn and firing.
The footage then showed the badly injured man being pulled to safety by two South Korean soldiers who crawled to reach him just south of the dividing line.
UN Command spokesman Colonel Chad Carroll told journalists that one of the border guards ran across the military demarcation line for a “few seconds before returning back to the north side.”
An investigation found that the North Korean army violated the 1953 armistice both by firing weapons across the demarcation line and by actually crossing it.
The UNC has “requested a meeting (with North Korea) to discuss our investigation and measures to prevent future such violations,” Carroll said.
South Korean and US service members on duty at the border did not return fire, and Carroll commended their restraint in refraining from actions that could have unleashed cross-border hostilities.
They “demonstrated appropriate self-discipline and sound decision-making at a time when the situation on the ground was not nearly as clear as we can see now in the video,” he said.
The security forces “demonstrated considerable courage that day” and “deescalated this uncertain and ambiguous situation” at the border, he said.
Tensions between the US and North Korea are running high after a series of missile and nuclear tests aimed at deploying an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to US cities.
The United States on Tuesday unveiled new sanctions targeting North Korean shipping and Chinese traders doing business with Pyongyang, again raising the pressure on the pariah state to abandon its nuclear program.
US President Donald Trump said this week that the sanctions were the first in a series of moves over the next two weeks that will reinforce his “maximum pressure campaign” against Kim Jong-Un’s regime.
The doctor who operated on the defector at a hospital south of Seoul said Wednesday he has regained consciousness but was depressed and would spend several more days in intensive care.
“As the patient is showing signs of depression due to intense psychological stress following two rounds of major surgeries, he will undergo tests for post-traumatic stress disorder,” Lee Cook-Jong told reporters.
“It’s not like the patient will open his eyes and walk out of the hospital after surgery as you see in movies,” he said.
However, Lee said he had been able to have extensive conversation with the North Korean man who had told him he defected to the South of his own free will.
“The reason that he defected, risking death and facing a barrage of gunshots, was because he had positive hopes about South Korea,” he said.
In addition to his gunshot injuries, the defector was found to be riddled with intestinal parasites, an apparent result of poor food hygiene in the impoverished North.
The Yonhap news agency on Tuesday cited a government official as saying that depending on medical advice, an interrogation team is expected to question the defector in four or five days’ time.