Warning shots fired as soldiers pursued defector

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Warning shots fired as soldiers pursued defector

South Korean soldiers fired warning shots when two North Korean soldiers crossed the military demarcation line in pursuit of a fellow soldier who defected Tuesday, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said yesterday.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff said two more North Korean soldiers, each armed with a rifle, crossed the military demarcation line in Gangwon around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, “presumably to hunt for the defector” who had crossed the border an hour earlier. An official with the JCS said South Korean soldiers first made a warning announcement and then fired warning shots, as per the rules of engagement.

The official declined to say whether the warning shots were directed at the North Korean soldiers or simply shot in the air.

The two North Korean soldiers quickly retreated. The official denied Wednesday evening’s news reports that there was another North Korean soldier who tried to defect but was shot dead.

In the meantime, the National Intelligence Service and the Defense Security Command are leading the joint investigation of the defecting soldier’s route and the motive for his escape. He crossed over the military demarcation line at the eastern front in Gangwon and told the South Korean guards he wanted to defect.

The Defense Ministry said Wednesday the South Korean unit in charge of the area took “all the appropriate steps” in handling the North Korean. More details of the joint investigation should be released in the coming days.

Defections across the military border are rare, as it is lined with barbed wire and heavily mined.

The last defection by a North Korean soldier took place in October 2008, when a noncommissioned officer crossed the border in Gangwon. Six months earlier, another officer defected through the front line near Panmunjom.

According to the Unification Ministry, 2,809 North Koreans defected to the South in 2008, an 11 percent increase over the previous year, and 2,952 more did so in 2009.

More than 18,000 North Koreans have left for the South since the 1950-53 war.

By Yoo Jee-ho, Lee Min-yong [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]

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