Shots fired at DMZ as North Korean soldier defects to South

Ribbons bearing messages wishing for unification between the two Koreas hang on a barbed-wire fence near the militarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju
Ribbons bearing messages wishing for unification between the two Koreas hang on a barbed-wire fence near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

December 22, 2017

By Haejin Choi and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean guards fired warning shots across the heavily militarized border with North Korea on Thursday as a soldier from the North defected in thick fog, complicating efforts to ease tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

A South Korean defense ministry official said up to 20 warning shots were fired as North Korean troops approached too near the “military demarcation line” at the demilitarized zone (DMZ), apparently in search of the missing soldier.

Thursday’s defection came about five weeks after a North Korean soldier suffered critical gunshot wounds during a defection dash across the border.

Two North Korean civilians were also found in a fishing boat on Wednesday and had sought to defect, officials in the South said.

That brings the total number of North Koreans who have defected by taking dangerous routes either directly across the border or by sea to 15 so far this year, including two other soldiers. That is three times the number last year, according to South Korean officials.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula were already high after reclusive, impoverished North Korea accelerated testing of its missile and nuclear programs this year in defiance of international pressure and UN sanctions.

The defections also threaten to complicate South Korea’s efforts to ensure the smooth running of the 2018 Winter Olympics, which begin in Pyeongchang in February.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday he had proposed postponing major military drills with the United States until after the games in an attempt to soothe relations, although officials in Seoul later said any proposed delay would depend on the North not engaging in any “provocations”.

In a notice published online, the U.S. military’s 8th Army said a “significant number of North Korean propaganda leaflets and CDs” had been distributed at “strategic locations” on multiple U.S. military bases in South Korea.

The notice called on troops to report any suspicious individuals to help combat potential “insider threats” that could disrupt military operations.

The United States stations 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, and North Korea says regular U.S.-South Korean military drills are a prelude to invasion. It regularly threatens to destroy the United States and its two key Asian allies, South Korea and Japan.

LANDMINES, BARBED WIRE

Seoul says more than 880 North Koreans have defected to the rich, democratic South so far this year, but the vast majority have taken a less dangerous route through China.

Going through China, North Korea’s neighbor and sole major ally, means they avoid the DMZ, which features landmines, barbed wire, surveillance cameras, electric fencing and thousands of armed troops on both sides.

The number of defectors arriving successfully in the South has dropped since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un took power in late 2011, a trend defectors and experts say may be linked to a crackdown by Pyongyang.

There was no immediate comment from the secretive North about the latest incidents.

However, the North’s state media released a statement sharply denying U.S. allegations this week that Pyongyang was behind a number of recent cyber attacks.

Washington has publicly blamed North Korean hackers for a cyber attack in May that crippled hospitals, banks and other companies. Researchers also say the North was likely behind attacks on virtual currency exchanges.

The military drills with the United States have also complicated relations with China. The proposed delay in drills was discussed during a summit between Moon and Chinese President Xi Jinping last week after the proposal was submitted to Washington, an official at the presidential Blue House said this week.

China and Russia have proposed a “freeze for freeze” arrangement under which North Korea would stop its nuclear and missile tests in exchange for a halt to the exercises, but there has been little interest from Washington or Pyongyang.

DEFECTION IN HEAVY FOG

In Thursday’s defection, a low-ranking soldier crossed the border near a South Korean guard post, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman, Roh Jae-cheon, said. No shots were fired at the soldier.

Surveillance equipment detected him despite heavy fog that limited visibility to about 100 meters (110 yards), Roh said.

South Korean guards fired about 20 warning shots at North Korean troops near the border presumably searching for the defector about half an hour later, a defense ministry official in the South told Reuters.

Gunfire from the North was detected later but the target could not be determined, the official said.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry also said maritime police had found two North Korean men drifting in a small boat off the coast on Wednesday. The pair “expressed their willingness to defect”, a ministry official said, and their claim for asylum was being investigated.

The North Korean soldier who was shot several times during a daring dash across the border on Nov. 13 has since been identified as 24-year-old Oh Chong Song and is now in a military hospital south of Seoul.

His treatment for gunshot wounds and pre-existing conditions has included two major operations and intelligence officials will begin questioning him soon.

(Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Heekyong Yang in SEOUL; Editing by Nick Macfie)

  • One_way

    Hey Kim U Stupid, look at it this way. One less mouth to feed!

  • Roscoe

    Nuke the Gooks! I’m sorry as that is so coarse as to be politically offensive and against diversity so please allow me to rephrase it. Launch nuclear weapons against the military installations in North Korea including their government. Move in immediately with aid to help those poor people who are under the thumb of these incredibly stupid vicious savages. Recreate one Korea just as we did one Germany.

  • Bokonon9

    Ha ha, Trump Derangement Syndrome rears its ugly head!

  • Butthep

    NK sent spy agents to SK.

  • tdf050658

    LOL! Keep dreaming, and it’s ‘losing’, BTW.

  • BillVA

    #1-Do NK soldiers who are shooting at defectors really shoot to kill, or are they putting on a required act?

    #2-Do those who fail to hit a defector face punishment?

    • scott

      Both are good questions. I wish I knew the answers to, but I imagine yes they’re shooting to kill and yes if you miss you become dog food.

      • BillVA

        Makes me wonder about what goes on in the minds of the escapee and his fellow soldiers trying to stop him.

        If we believe that every successful escape means that a complicit soldier becomes dog food, that sure changes the daily dynamics between fellow soldiers.

        You might be less likely to make a break for it if a friend were on duty because you would not put him in that position.

        Conversely, you might be MORE likely to make a break for it if someone who was rabidly loyal to the state were on duty, even though you know he would be shooting to kill.

        And no one could trust anyone.

      • PatrickJ

        I believe yours was the correct assumption.

  • PatrickJ

    Imagine the temptation, if you were a North Korean citizen living under the oppressive regime of Kim Jong Un.
    You’re starving, you’r constantly hungry. Living in poverty and degradation. While just to the south, on the other side of the de-militarized zone, lies one the richest and most modern countries in that part of the world.
    People are healthy, with good medical care. They have good employment, they can afford to raise a family and basically enjoy life.

    The only bad thing about defecting is that your family members who you leave behind will probably suffer for your act. It’s a sad thing indeed. Someone needs to take out the little chump.

  • nfcapitalist

    Where are the marxists today… here is their communist success story, the USSR and China still have their iron and bamboo curtains, but they did get past the fanatical mass murder of freedom, now it’s just selective murder.

  • Deny

    Somebody needs to give that fat little bas***d a third eye. Can’t even imagine the HORRORS NK people live with day in and day out!

    • Reagans Third Term

      Its not just Kim Jong Fatness, its the entire government.

      • tdf050658

        The entire government lives under a cloak of horrors and threat. High ranking officials seem to disappear regularly.

      • Deny

        Start with him and work your way down.

  • Javanne

    I’ve read that South Korea is concerned about such defectors because of the possibility they are actually agents of North Korea. In this latest defection, the soldier made it unscathed, which lends credence to that fear. However, it should be easy to determine the truth. Just look at his insides. If he has parasitic worms, he is a true defector. Otherwise, he’s an agent.

    • nfcapitalist

      Imagine… if No Kos defect to China… they send them back to be tortured and killed… they are all cannibals.

    • Jenny O

      That’s what crossed my mind, as well. Your solution for discovery makes sense, too!

  • USMC71

    Christians need to pray for those attempting to defect. Most of the NK refugees I know became Christians once they escaped that hellhole, even though in China they were stateless immigrants and could not receive state assistance.

    • Legion

      China actually has the fastest growing Christian population in the world and is projected to have the highest population of Christians in the world by the year 2030.

      • USMC71

        Numerically, yes, but as a percentage of growth per capita year-to-year, that distinction belongs to Iran…and by some reports even Afghanistan shares in that.

  • Donald York

    North Korea’s people are not only hungry for food, they’re hungry for freedom and imo, it won’t be long before a NK citizen, or; a high ranking military person takes Kim out.

    • Johnny G.

      The French revolution was kindled by the “people” thirsting for more than just food too. “Let them eat cake” was a famous quote from that time.

    • PatrickJ

      That would certainly be the best solution.

    • Reagans Third Term

      Kim is too highly protected and monitored. And he is nothing more than a mere puppet of the regime there. He inherited his father’s position only because the “Party” allowed it. He is totally controlled.

  • RMCS Ret.

    What I don’t see reported is the large number of boats and bodies that have been washing up on Japanese shores. The Japanese are having a difficult time indentiyfiing returning the bodies or cremated remains to North Korea. A casual reading of the
    “Japan Times” English edition would reveal same to any MSM outlet willing to acknowledge the fact.

    • Reagans Third Term

      Senior Chief, the MSM doesn’t concern itself with facts.

    • ChrisLongski

      I read the Japan times daily. You are correct.

      USN RMCS = OK.