Earlier this week, we noted the incredible video footage from the tense Korean Demilitarized Zone depicting one North Korean soldier’s desperate dash into the South as his former comrades unleashed a hail of bullets.
United Nations Command released CCTV footage Tuesday of the 20-something-year-old suspected staff sergeant fleeing his desolate country, first in a jeep and then on foot, with North Korean soldiers in hot pursuit. The man crossed into South Korea at the Joint Security Area while his comrades chased after him, firing on him as he ran.
In response to the high-profile defection – marking the first time in recent years where a soldier actually made it across the heavily fortified border between the two Koreas - North Korea has reportedly replaced between 35 and 40 guards and soldiers who were guarding the border at the time of the defection. Meanwhile, it has also fortified the part of its border where the soldier crossed.
Meanwhile, South Korean and US soldiers have been decorated for their role in the defector’s rescue. The defector, who has not been named, was shot seven times during his escape attempt. Doctors who tended to the defector in the South reportedly pulled parasitic worms from his intestines and discovered he was suffering from a chronic liver infection.
The US and South Korean soldiers risked injury when they dragged the badly wounded soldier to safety.
A group of senior diplomats based in Seoul visited the JSA on Wednesday morning where 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.
In a photograph of the visit tweeted by Marc Knapper, the US ambassador to South Korea, North Korean workers could be seen using shovels to dig a deep trench on the North Korean side of the line as soldiers stood guard.
“The workers were being watched very closely by the KPA guards, not just the two in the photo, but others out of shot behind the building,” one anonymous diplomat told Reuters.
“We’re closely monitoring the North Korean military’s movement in the JSA,” a South Korean defense ministry official told reporters, without confirming the reduction in border guards. “There are limits as to what we can say about things we know."
One unusual detail from the photos taken by 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, the diplomat told Reuters, in an apparent effort to make it more difficult for would-be defectors to drive across the border.
Meanwhile, in South Korea, U.S. Forces Korea said it had awarded its own JSA soldiers - three South Korean and three U.S. soldiers - the Army Commendation medal in recognition for their efforts in rescuing the defector.
The medals were personally handed out by USFK Commander Vincent Brooks in a ceremony on Thursday, 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 the numerous gunshot wounds to his arms and torso.
The young soldier, known only by his family name Oh, was described as a quiet, pleasant man who has nightmares about being returned to the North, according to his surgeon.
Despite the ordeal, Oh is incredibly lucky; unfortunately, any other soldiers planning a daring escape from the isolated North will need to find another vulnerability in the world’s most heavily armed border.