N. Korean soldier's defection

Pyongyang replaces guards at border

Above: North Korean soldiers digging a trench on Wednesday in the area where a North Korean defector (left) dashed across the border with South Korea on Nov 13.
Above: North Korean soldiers digging a trench on Wednesday in the area where a North Korean defector dashed across the border with South Korea on Nov 13.PHOTO: REUTERS
Above: North Korean soldiers digging a trench on Wednesday in the area where a North Korean defector (left) dashed across the border with South Korea on Nov 13.
North Korean soldiers digging a trench on Wednesday in the area where a North Korean defector (above) dashed across the border with South Korea on Nov 13.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Workers seen digging trench in border area; S. Korean, US soldiers lauded for rescue effort

SEOUL • North Korea has reportedly replaced guards and fortified a section of its border with South Korea where a North Korean soldier staged a daring defection last week, while South Korean and US soldiers have been decorated for their role in his rescue.

The North Korean defector was shot and wounded by his fellow soldiers as he dashed to the South Korean side of the Joint Security Area (JSA) last week.

The South Korean and American soldiers who led a rescue attempt to drag the gravely injured soldier to safety were awarded medals on Thursday, according to the US Forces Korea (USFK).

A group of senior diplomats based in Seoul visited the JSA on Wednesday morning, and they saw five North Korean workers digging a deep trench in the area where the soldier had dashed across the line after getting his jeep stuck in a small ditch, a member of the diplomatic delegation told Reuters yesterday.

The diplomat, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation, said that "the workers were being watched very closely by the KPA (Korean People's Army) guards".

A photograph taken during the diplomats' visit was posted on the Twitter page of Mr Marc Knapper, acting United States ambassador to South Korea.

According to an intelligence official cited by South Korea's Yonhap news agency, the North has replaced its 35 to 40 soldiers who were guarding the JSA at the time of the incident.

"We're closely monitoring the North Korean military's movement in the JSA," a South Korean Defence Ministry official said, without confirming the reduction in border guards. "There are limits as to what we can say about things we know."

Reuters was unable to independently verify the reports, although photos taken by Mr Knapper and other diplomats of soldiers guarding the area where workers were digging the trench showed them dressed in slightly different uniforms to the ones usually worn by North Korea's JSA guards.

Two new trees had also been planted in the small space between the ditch and the line with the South in an apparent effort to make it more difficult for would-be defectors to drive across the ground, according to the diplomat who spoke to Reuters.

Meanwhile, in South Korea, USFK said it awarded its own JSA soldiers - three South Korean and three US soldiers - the Army Commendation medal in recognition of their efforts in rescuing the defector.

The medals were personally handed out by USFK commander Vincent Brooks in a ceremony, according to USFK's Facebook page.

The soldiers had been responsible for dragging the wounded North Korean soldier to safety in a daring rescue seen in security camera footage released by the United Nations Command earlier this week.

Pyongyang has not commented on the defection of its soldier, who is now in stable condition despite sustaining multiple injuries sustained from gunshot wounds to his arm and torso.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2017, with the headline 'Pyongyang replaces guards at border'. Print Edition | Subscribe