SOUTH KOREA — Dramatic video showing a North Korean soldier fleeing across the border into South Korea while being shot at by his former comrades was released by the United Nations Command Wednesday.
The video’s release marks the first time the American-led UN Command has disclosed security footage of a defection across the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ) that divides North and South Korea, said Hochong Song, a public affairs officer for US Forces Korea.
By firing across the DMZ at the defector, North Korean soldiers violated the Korean War armistice, said the UN Command, which oversees the 64-year-old ceasefire agreement. One North Korean soldier also crossed the military demarcation line (MDL) — another violation of the armistice that paused the Korean War in 1953 — said Col. Chad Carroll, US Forces Korea public affairs director. A peace treaty formally ending the war has never been signed.
Carroll said that the UN Command had notified the North Korean People’s Army of the violations via regular communication channels and requested a meeting to discuss the results of the UN investigation into the incident as well as measures to prevent future such violations.
“The armistice agreement was challenged, but it remains in place,” Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the American who leads the UN Command.
The 24-year-old soldier has regained consciousness and is undergoing further treatment, the hospital treating him said Wednesday. He’s been listening to South Korean and Western music and watching television.
He is the third member of the North Korean armed forces to defect this year.
UN Forces Korea said North Korea has violated the armistice “several” times, but Korean authorities put that number higher.
According to a document from the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, North Korea has been accused of defying the armistice thousands of times since 1953, though not all the violations are nearly as dramatic as a shootout caught on camera.
North Korea claims the South has also breached the armistice thousands of times.
What was shown
The security footage released by the UN Command begins at 3:11 p.m. local time on November 13, with a wide shot of a military vehicle speeding down a tree-lined street on the North Korean side of the DMZ.
It moves past a North Korean guard post ahead of the bridge at 3:13 p.m.
What appears to be a soldier exits the building as the vehicle rushes past. Moments later, the vehicle crosses a bridge.
It then approaches a monument to North Korea’s founding father, Kim Il Sung, the starting point for North Korean tours of the Joint Security Area. Carroll said there were no tour groups on either side of the DMZ when the defection occurred.
The driver turns right at the monument, just steps away from South Korea. It’s still 3:13 p.m. Under the cover of trees, the vehicle appears to stop.
At 3:14 p.m., North Korean soldiers run toward the vehicle from an adjacent guard tower and from the steps at Panmungak, the main building on the North Korean side of the JSA.
The video then shows the defecting soldier getting out from the driver’s side of the vehicle and starting to run.
Four North Korean soldiers appear in frame near the vehicle. One falls to the ground, though it’s unclear why. Another appears to fire his gun.
One North Korean soldier then briefly crosses the MDL.
At 3:43 p.m., Col. Carroll says the video shows the defecting soldier lying against a retaining wall in a pile of leaves on the South Korean side of the DMZ.
It’s another 12-minute jump to the following clip. It shows heat signatures of the wounded defector and three soldiers who are tasked with recovering him. More forces were in the area, Carroll said, but only three went to his immediate vicinity.
Two people — non-commissioned officers according to Carroll — crawl on the ground and make their way to the injured North Korean while another, who Carroll says is the South Korean JSA deputy battalion commander, stands guard.
K-pop at the hospital
More than 40 bullets were fired at him, from pistols and an AK-47, South Korea’s military said last week. South Korean troops did not return fire.
The soldier underwent multiple surgeries and lost more than 50% of his blood by the time he arrived by air at Ajou University Hospital, his surgeon Lee Cook-jong said in a separate news conference Wednesday.
Lee said it was difficult to tell exactly how many times he was shot. Four major wounds were found, but he could have been shot twice in the same location.
During treatment, he was given four pints of blood and multiple surgeries.
At one point, doctors considered amputating his left arm due to nerve damage. His intestines and motor functions are also permanently damaged.
Though he stabilized Sunday afternoon after his breathing tube was removed, the soldier was still in considerable pain, Lee said.
But he has regained consciousness and is now in “great” condition, according to Lee
“It’s only in the movies where a patient would gain consciousness right after a surgery and walk away. It’s not like that in reality,” said Lee.
The soldier was also found to have dozens of parasites, some as long as 27 centimeters, in his ruptured intestines, which may be reflective of poor nutrition and health in North Korea’s military.
When speaking to reporters, Lee said he felt the soldier had come to South Korea of his own free will.
The surgeon said he’s talked to his patient “a lot,” speaking mostly about music. He was listening to the K-pop band Girls Generation and watching South Korean and American movies and television.