A defecting North Korean soldier was shot by his comrades on Nov. 13 after he abandoned his post and ran across the Demilitarized Zone, one of the most heavily armed borders in the world, Stars and Stripes reports.
The soldier crossed through the Joint Security Area, which is the only point along the 150-mile long DMZ where North Korean and South Korean soldiers stand face-to-face. Despite his wounds, the defector managed to escape the North and was discovered 55 yards south of the border line.
Defections very rarely occur in the the area; South Korean officials told Stars and Stripes that the last successful defection happened in 2007.
Most defectors attempting to reach the South travel through China; however, in recent years, several North Korean soldiers have managed to make it across the DMZ, often under harrowing circumstances. In 2012, for example, a soldier made it to the South after murdering his superiors, according to The New York Times.
The most recent North Korean military defector, who was shot in the shoulder and elbow, was airlifted to a hospital by a United Nations Command helicopter. He was found bleeding by South Korean soldiers after gunfire was heard. According to Stripes, the soldier was unarmed and “wearing a combat uniform indicating a low rank.”
Upwards of 30,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the 1953 armistice brought the Korean War to a halt. The two countries are still technically at war, and South Korean forces are bolstered by about 28,000 U.S. service members currently stationed in the country.
No gunfire was exchanged between South Korean and North Korean troops on Nov. 13. However, the South Korean military has raised its alert level and, according to Stripes, “is maintaining a full readiness posture against the possibility of provocations from North Korea.”
The JSA, a popular tourist destination and the site of recent visits by defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Vice President Mike Pence, has erupted in violence in the past. In 1984, soldiers on both sides were killed and wounded after a Soviet tourist attempted to defect through the area. And in 1976, two American soldiers were killed there by North Korean soldiers armed with axes.
Tensions on the peninsula have escalated in recent months as President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un have repeatedly lobbed insults at each other. Trump has been touring Asia over the past week in a bid to rally regional powers, including China, against Pyongyang’s efforts to develop a nuclear arsenal.
The latest salvo in the war of words occurred over the weekend, when Jong-un described Trump as a “lunatic old men.” Trump responded via Twitter, writing, “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?’ Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend — and maybe someday that will happen!”