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.
US Brings Legal Action Against Chinese Company for North Korea Ties
The United States announced criminal charges and economic sanctions against four Chinese individuals and a Chinese company earlier this week.
The U.S. government said it acted to punish them for suspected support for North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
On Wednesday, a State Department official suggested that more Chinese companies and individuals could face investigation for suspected violations of sanctions on North Korea.
The State Department’s coordinator for Sanctions Policy, Daniel Fried, spoke to the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee.
He said, “It would also be useful if Chinese banks and companies understood that increasingly dealing with North Korean companies, especially those that are sanctioned, is going to be risky.”
Two days earlier, the Treasury Department announced criminal charges and economic actions against a Chinese seller of industrial machinery. It named four top officials of Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Developmental Company Limited (DHID).
The four include the company’s chairwoman, Ma Xiaohong. They are accused of plotting to avoid sanctions against North Korea, and using American financial businesses to hide the money they earned illegally.
Chinese officials also are investigating the company. They are looking at its connection with the Kwangson Banking Corporation, a North Korean bank. U.S. and United Nations have said the bank has provided financial services in support of North Korea’s weapons programs.
A State Department officials said, “This shows we can work cooperatively with China; we both see it in our interests to apply greater pressure on North Korea.”
On Tuesday, a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official spoke to reporters about the U.S. action. Spokesman Geng Shuang said China was prepared to support U.N. resolutions against North Korea. The resolutions call for sanctions to punish the North for its nuclear and missile tests.
However, the spokesman expressed opposition to other countries using their own laws against companies or people within China.
“I want to stress that we oppose any country enacting so-called ‘long-arm jurisdiction,’ using its own domestic laws against a Chinese entity or individual,” he said.
In March, China agreed to the strongest U.N. Security Council sanctions yet to limit trade with North Korea.
The council's members have approved other actions to punish the country for its nuclear activities and missile program. Those restrictions have largely halted North Korean trade with countries other than China.
North Korea has faced severe international sanctions to punish the country for its nuclear activity and missile program.
Those restrictions have largely halted North Korean trade with countries other than China.
However, new research suggests that North Korean state-operated businesses are using middlemen in China to avoid sanctions.
I’m Mario Ritter.
This story was written from reports by Pete Cobus and Nike Ching for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
entity –n. a legal business or organization, something that exists by itself and is separate from other things
middlemen –n. people who buy goods from a producer and sell them to someone else