Kaesong defector was malnourished

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Kaesong defector was malnourished

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in black, poses with soldiers of a frontline unit on the Yellow Sea in August, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported. Many of the soldiers appear to be suffering from poor nutrition. [YONHAP]


The teenage North Korean soldier who defected to the South after killing his two superiors at a guard post last month suffered from serious malnutrition, a Seoul government official said yesterday.

The defector was 180 centimeters (5 feet, 11 inches) tall and weighed only 46 kilograms (101 pounds).

“He is considered extremely tall as an average North Korean soldier but he is excessively thin, which shocked us,” the official said yesterday. “We’re aware that the North Korean regime usually selects tall soldiers and intentionally stations them near the Kaesong Industrial Complex, where South Korean officials and workers come in and out frequently.”

The defection took place on a road used by South Korean officials to reach the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

In the past, North Korea deployed soldiers with decent family backgrounds or ties with the military or the ruling party near Panmunjeom and Kaesong, the official said.

The official said that the defector is from an ordinary family in the North instead of a family with impressive ties to the military. He was serving in the unit for a second year.

“The post in which the defector soldier was placed was only 500 meters [1,640 feet] from South Korea,” the official said. “At first, when we heard the news, we assumed he would be a son of a high-level official in the North [because he was placed near the border], but we were wrong.”

The official said, “Based on the investigation so far, the defector stated that although his army unit was treated well relative to other units, soldiers were given only salted radishes as side dishes every day. Based on his statements, we’re judging that there is a shortage of food in the North Korean military and meals are not being provided properly.”

The South Korean military also flagged concerns recently over malnutrition in North Korean army units. When North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited a unit on Mudo, or Mu Islet, in August, a photo depicting him and the soldiers showed young military men that seemed to be malnourished.

“The North Korean soldiers on duty now grew up when the regime suffered severely from food shortages,” said Kim Yeon-soo, a professor at Korea National Defense University. “Their basic physical condition is weak, and on top of that, they’re not given proper nourishment.”

After the death of North Korean leader Kim Il Sung in 1994, up to three million North Korean residents died of malnutrition due to devastating floods in the summer of 1995.

Most of the soldiers on duty today were born around that year.

By Lee Young-jong, Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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