TOKYO — North Korea clearly violated the 1953 armistice agreement that ended the Korean War when its border guards shot after, and one ran after, a North Korean soldier as he made a daring dash for freedom last week, the commander of U.S. Forces in Korea said Wednesday.
His full escape — including the moment he ran from his Jeep toward the south, and his compatriots ran after him shooting — was caught on closed-circuit television footage that the U.S.-run United Nations Command, which controls the southern part of the border, released Wednesday.
The man, thought to be in his 20s, made a daring dash for freedom across the Demilitarized Zone last week and was shot at least five times during his escape. He is in a stable condition and has regained consciousness, his doctor said Wednesday.
“He’s OK,” trauma surgeon Lee Cook-jong told a press conference at the hospital. “He’s not going to die.”
The U.N. Command’s special investigation team had been reviewing the video and found the North Koreans violated the armistice agreement twice during the incident by firing weapons across the MDL and when one North Korean soldier temporarily crossed the line.
Gen. Vincent Brooks, the commander of U.S. Forces in Korea and the head of the U.N. Command, said the service members on the southern side “took appropriate actions” during the incident to de-escalate tensions and prevent anyone being killed.
“The armistice agreement was challenged, but it remains in place,” Brooks said.
U.N. command has notified the North Korean military of the violations and has requested a meeting to discuss them.
In the dramatic footage, the soldier’s Jeep is seen driving along a road in North Korea and across what is known as the “72-hour Bridge” before barreling through the Joint Security Area, the only part of the DMZ where North and South Korean soldiers face each other.
However, the Jeep got stuck in a ditch and the soldier jumped out and started running toward the south. Four other North Korean soldiers are seen running toward him and stopping to shoot at him.
One of the North Korean soldiers briefly crossed the Military Demarcation Line that runs through the DMZ, marking the border, before returning to the north side of the JSA. This constitutes a violation of the armistice agreement that the two sides signed at the end of the Korean War in 1953.
The North Korean man can then be seen in a pile of leaves against a building on the southern side of the line, and then three South Korean soldiers can be seen going in to rescue him.
After that, the North Korean was airlifted in an American Black Hawk helicopter to Anjou Hospital south of Seoul, known for having one of the best trauma centers in the country.
Lee, the surgeon treating him, said Wednesday that the soldier was conscious and breathing on his own, but was still in the intensive care unit while doctors continue to treat him.
The soldier has gunshot wounds to his shoulder and elbow, as well as severe injuries in his abdomen, which was ripped apart in the shooting.
Complicating these wounds, the soldier had a severe parasitic infection — he had worms that were 11 inches long — as well as Hepatitis-B and blood poisoning, perhaps the result of his abdominal cavity becoming contaminated with feces and worms as a result of the shooting.
The soldier shows signs of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and is not in any state to be questioned by investigators, Lee told reporters in Seoul on Wednesday.