Around 40 gunshots were fired from the North at a North Korean soldier who defected to South Korea via the Joint Security Area, South Korea’s military said Tuesday.
He remains in critical condition at a hospital in South Korea, where he has received surgery for his injuries. Five bullets – including those from an AK-47 assault rifle – were found on his body, according to South Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff.
North Korea has yet to comment on the incident, the first JSA defection to the South in 10 years. While being surrounded by military outposts and minefields, JSA is a sought-after tourist destination for foreign visitors.
“Our assessment is that three North Korean soldiers and another from the North’s military outpost chased him as he fled, firing shots,” JCS top operational chief, Army Gen. Suh Wook, said during a meeting with lawmakers.
The soldier drove a jeep toward the Military Demarcation Line, which bisects the two Koreas inside the JSA, until it became stuck in a ditch and could not move forward. The soldier jumped out of the vehicle and ran to the South, the JCS said
Alongside the United Nations Command, which assumes operational control inside the JSA, the South Korean military is investigating whether North Korea violated an armistice agreement in their response to the defection.
When asked about whether North Korea fired shots into the UNC-controlled area, the JCS said they had yet to confirm such evidence. South Korea’s Defense Minster Song Young-moo, however, told lawmakers that “it was the first incident in which North Korean bullets had flown across the border inside the JSA.”
Collectively, the reports suggest that Pyongyang is having difficulty maintaining the discipline and cohesion of its forces along both borders, and across the whole length of the DMZ. When discipline erodes sufficiently in an area, there are small surges of defections there (admittedly, two defections may not qualify as a surge). The regime then sends inspection teams in to crack down and rotates new units in to reverse the decay. It usually works … for a year or two. Then, corruption starts to take its toll and the cycle repeats.
Any defection from a front-line until along the DMZ is telling. For at least two to occur in the space of nine days says that even in the North Korean army’s best regular units, discipline is uneven.