The South Korean military said Monday the soldier was trying to defect in the Joint Security Area of the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ.
North Korean soldiers have crossed the border to defect at times. But it is rare for a North Korean soldier to defect by crossing the DMZ. North and South Korean soldiers stand meters away from each other.
The North Korean soldier left from a guard post at the northern side of Panmunjom village to the southern side of the village. He was shot in the shoulder and elbow and was taken to a South Korean hospital, said the South’s Defense Ministry.
It was not immediately known how serious his injuries were or why he decided to defect.
South Korean troops found the injured soldier south of the border after hearing the sound of gunfire. South Korean troops did not fire at Northern soldiers, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said.
The defection came at a time of heightened tension over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. North Korea has normally accused South Korea of enticing its citizens to defect, something the South denies.
Panmunjom and other DMZ areas are guarded by hundreds of thousands of troops from North Korea and the United Nations Command. The command includes troops from the United States and South Korea.
The area is a popular stop for visitors from both sides. American presidents often visit the DMZ during their trips to South Korea. President Donald Trump planned to visit the DMZ during his visit to South Korea. But bad weather prevented his helicopter from landing near the border area.
It is estimated that about 30,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953. But most of them travel through China.
In 1998, a North Korean soldier fled to the South through the DMZ, but there have been few incidents in recent years.
Earlier in 1976, North Korean soldiers with axes and knives attacked a group of soldiers in the DMZ, killing two American soldiers and injuring five South Korean soldiers. The U.S. then flew nuclear-capable B-52 bombers toward the DMZ as a warning to North Korea.
In 1984, North Korean and U.N. Command soldiers exchanged gunfire after a Soviet citizen defected by sprinting to the South Korean side of the village. Three North Korean soldiers and one South Korean soldier died in the gunfire.