North Korean soldier, shot and wounded, defects to South Korea

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A North Korean soldier is in critical conditon after fleeing to the South on Monday, despite being shot and wounded by the North Korean military.
A South Korean soldier stands guard at the propaganda village of Gijungdong in North Korea on Sept 28, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP, REUTERS) - A North Korean soldier was shot and injured by his own side on Monday (Nov 13) while defecting to South Korea at the border truce village of Panmunjom, the South's military said.

The soldier was shot in the shoulder and elbow and was picked up bleeding on the South side of a portion of the border known as the Joint Security Area (JSA).

It is rare for the North's troops to defect at the truce village, a major tourist attraction and the only part of the frontier where forces from the two sides come face-to-face.

"Our military has taken in a North Korean soldier after he crossed from a North Korea post towards our Freedom House," Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement, referring to a building on the South side of the village which is bisected by the borderline.

An JCS official quoted by Yonhap news agency said the soldier was evacuated to a private hospital by a UN helicopter. The official said the South's soldiers heard a gunshot and then retrieved the unarmed and bleeding soldier in the mid-afternoon.

No personal details have been released but his uniform suggested he was low-ranking, Yonhap said.

The JCS official said the soldier had regained consciousness but declined comment on whether his injuries were life-threatening.

There has been no exchange of gunfire between the two sides, but the South's military said it has raised its level of alertness against any North Korean provocations.

No tourists were in the JSA at the time because such tours do not run on Monday, said a spokesman for United States Forces Korea which approves the visits.

Military officials from the two sides have used Panmunjom frequently in the past for talks. Unlike the rest of the frontier, Panmunjom is not fortified and the border is marked only by a low concrete divider.

Over the decades since the peninsula was divided, dozens of North Korean soldiers have fled to the South through the heavily fortified Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) along the rest of the border.

Two North Korean soldiers came over to the South in June after crossing the frontier.

Relations between the two sides have been tense for months, as the North stepped up its missile tests. In September it carried out its sixth and largest nuclear test, of what it described as a hydrogen bomb.

More than 30,000 North Korean civilians have fled their homeland since the two nations came into being in 1948. But it is very rare for civilians to cross the closely guarded border with the South, which is fortified with minefields and barbed wire. Most flee across the North's porous frontier with China and then move on to a third country to seek passage to South Korea.

The two Koreas have been in a technical state of war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. There was no immediate comment on the incident from North Korea.

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