North Korean soldier in stable condition after being shot during defection

North Korean soldier in stable condition after being shot during defection

Reuters

A North Korean soldier who suffered critical gunshot wounds during a defection dash over the border to South Korea on November 13, 2017, was stabilized after a second round of surgery, a doctor treating him said.

The soldier, whose rank and identity have not been disclosed, was flown by helicopter to the hospital after his escape to South Korea in a hail of bullets fired by North Korean soldiers.

A surgery two days after the defection was “successful” in terms of staunching bleeding and the soldier had “stabilized much,” said Lee Cook-jong, the surgeon in charge of his treatment.

However, he remained unconscious, and complications from a severe hip fracture and possible infection remained major concerns, Lee said.

“We will be able to tell you after about 10 days,” Lee told reporters at a briefing, when asked about the soldier’s chances of surviving.

Government and military officials said the soldier was in critical condition a day after being shot, but doctors expected him to live.

The soldier made his escape in a border truce village on the heavily guarded demilitarized zone between the two Koreas. (Pictured: A North Korean soldier keeps watch toward the south at the truce village of Panmunjom, South Korea, in September 2017.)

At first, he sped toward the border in a four-wheel-drive vehicle but was forced to abandon it and run when one of its wheels came loose, South Korean officials said.

Seven bullets pierced him before he took cover behind a South Korean structure in a Joint Security Area (JSA) inside the demilitarized zone.

Doctors removed five bullets from him during a first surgery and one more during a second.

North Korea has not said anything about the soldier. No unusual activity has been detected at the border where the soldier defected, the South’s Unification Ministry said.

“There will need to be some questioning on why he defected after his treatment is over,” ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told a regular briefing.

It marked the first time since 2007 that a North Korean soldier had defected across the JSA.

While on average more than 1,000 North Koreans defect to the South every year, most travel via China. It is unusual for a North Korean to cross the land border dividing the two Koreas, which have been in a technical state of war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The United Nations Command, in place since the end of the war, said an investigation into the incident was being conducted.

South Korean Defence Minister Song Young-moo said it was the first time North Korean soldiers had fired toward the South’s side of the JSA, prompting complaints from some lawmakers that the South’s military should have returned fire.

Moon Sang-gyun, the South’s Defense Ministry spokesman, said military operations at the JSA were usually conducted under the orders of the U.N. Command, which is in turn under orders from the U.S. military.

The U.N. Military Armistice Commission said it had informed the North Korean military that the soldier, who was found about 50 meters south of a Military Demarcation Line, had undergone surgery for his wounds.

The South also informed the North of the soldier and his treatment, via loudspeakers on the border, according to Suh Wook, chief director of operations at South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

North Korea has in the past complained that North Korean defectors had been abducted by South Korea, and it has demanded their release.

In November 2017, the North demanded that South Korea return 12 waitresses it said had been kidnapped while working in China in 2016. South Korea said the 12 women, and one man, had chosen to defect to the South.

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