North Korean Soldier Who Defected Used A Vehicle To Escape Under Hail Of Gunfire

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South Korean Soldiers stand guard on the South Korean side of the military demarcation line separating North and South Korea Aug. 16, with two standing partially behind the buildings to reduce their silhouettes, should they be shot at.
Army photo by Spc. Jeremy Reuse

A North Korean soldier defected to the South by driving a military jeep to the line that divides the peninsula, then sprinting across it under a hail of gunfire from his former comrades, officials said Tuesday.


The stunning escape in a jointly secured area of the Demilitarized Zone happened at a time of high tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, raising fears the communist state could conduct a provocation after a two-month lull in missile-testing activity.

The soldier was airlifted to a hospital south of Seoul after he was found bleeding under a pile of leaves Monday in the truce village of Panmunjom, the only point in the DMZ where both sides come face to face. He was reportedly in critical condition.

It was the first shooting in the Joint Security Area since 1984, but U.S. and South Korean forces did not return fire.

More than 30,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the end of the 1950-53 war, but it’s rare for soldiers to flee across the DMZ, much less the JSA.

North Korea has not commented on the shooting, but it usually responds angrily to defections and often accuses South Korea of kidnapping its citizens.

The defection came less than a week after President Donald Trump made his first official visit to South Korea amid soaring tensions over the growing nuclear and missile threat from the North.

The U.S.-led United Nations Command, which oversees the South Korean side of the JSA, said the defector drove the jeep near the de facto border line.

Photo illustration by Paul Szoldra

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