A North Korean soldier has crossed into South Korea on Thursday through the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that divides the peninsula, the South Korean government announced a month after the spectacular defection of another soldier from the North’s Army.
The “low rank” soldier was spotted Thursday by South Korean soldiers using surveillance equipment as he crossed the DMZ. He managed to reach a guard post, said a spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of Defense.
No shots were fired at the moment, he said. But the South Korean soldiers later carried out about 20 warning shots with a K-3 light machine gun to deter North Korean soldiers who were approaching the border, presumably looking for the defecting soldier.
This defection comes a month after the November 13th one when another North Korean soldier had also crossed the DMZ into the “common security zone” (JSA) in Panmunjom, the only sector of the DMZ where the two rival armies face each other.
Dramatic footage was broadcast at the end of November, showing the North Korean soldier seriously injured after he was shot by his fellow communist soldiers while he was trying to cross the border from the North.
The images of several CCTV cameras showed the defector’s jeep running at full speed on a totally deserted road leading from the north side to the border village of Panmunjom, before coming to a stop near the demarcation line.
The soldier was also videotaped coming out of the vehicle and embarking on a desperate course to the south, pursued by several North Korean soldiers who were shooting at him.
One of them even briefly crossed the common border before changing his mind, in what the United Nations Command in Korea (UNC) described as a violation of the 1953 Armistice Agreement.
The soldier, 24-year-old Oh Chong-Song, has since been hospitalized in the South. He first underwent several operations to treat his gunshot wounds at the Ajou University Hospital in Seoul before being transferred to a military hospital last week, according to Yonhap news agency.
He has recovered enough to get up and walk with help, the agency adds. He also wrote a letter of thanks to the medical team who took care of him.
The former soldier now wants to become a lawyer, reported his surgeon Lee Cook-Jong.
“He explained that in the North he could not study a lot because of his military involvement,” Lee said. “I just hope he’ll become a good citizen, whatever job he chooses.”
Apart from Panmunjom, the 2 wide DMZ is riddled with minefields and barbed wire, making it particularly dangerous to cross.
Thursday’s defection is the fourth by a North Korean soldier through the DMZ this year.
Two North Korean civilians also moved south this week. They were found on a makeshift motorboat off the eastern coast of South Korea, according to the South Korean agency Yonhap, citing the Unification Ministry.
Spotted by a South Korean surveillance aircraft, they were recovered by a navy vessel, according to Yonhap.
Since the beginning of the year, 15 North Koreans have defected directly to the South, according to a statement from the South Korean staff. That’s three times more than in 2016.
About 30,000 people have fled North Korea to the south since the end of the war (1950-1953), including 1,418 in 2016, according to the Unification Ministry.
Virtually all of them reach the South by first crossing the border with China, where they risk being sent back to the North and then transiting through a third country.