North Korean soldier defects to the South at Joint Security Area: JCS

North Korean soldier defects to the South at Joint Security Area: JCS

North Korean soldier defects to the South at Joint Security Area: JCS

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) has assessed that North Korean troops fired some 40 rounds at a North Korean soldier as he sprinted across the heavily-fortified border to defect to the South on Monday.

Soldiers from the North have occasionally defected to South Korea across the border but it is rare for a North Korean soldier to defect via the Joint Security Area, where border guards of the rival Koreas stand facing each other just metres apart, and be shot by fellow North Korean soldiers.

According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the defector drove a vehicle into the northern side of the JSA before approaching an area just 10 meters (33 feet) from the Military Demarcation Line (MDL).

The soldier was injured by gunfire from the North Korean side and has been hospitalized, according to South Korea's military.

South Korean forces have identified him only as "A" and said the man arrived in the country on Friday.

The Unification Ministry said North Korean soldiers also defected across the JSA in 2007 and 1998, but military officials said no shooting occurred during those incidents.

While on average more than 1,000 North Koreans defect to South Korea every year, most travel via China and it is unusual for a North Korean to cross the land border with South Korea.

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It was not immediately known how serious the soldier's injuries were or why he chose to defect. Jointly controlled by the American-led U.N. Command and North Korea, the DMZ is guarded on both sides by hundreds of thousands of combat-ready troops, razor-wire fences and tank traps.

Col. Roh Jae-cheon, a spokesman for South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military first became aware of the situation around 3:31 p.m.

South Korea's military has strengthened vigilance in the wake of the incident and remains prepared for any situation, the JCS said.

All channels for dialogue are now cut off between Seoul and Pyongyang after North Korea's relentless development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

The incident left three North Korean soldiers and one South Korean soldier dead. South Korean soldiers did not return fire.

From there they can seek sanctuary and organise a flight to South Korea, where defectors are given assistance and prepared for life outside the hermit state. In September the North carried out its sixth and largest nuclear test, of what it described as a hydrogen bomb.

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