A North Korean soldier was hospitalized after being shot by fellow North Korean troops early Monday following an attempt to defect to the South, according to South Korea’s military.
The soldier had been crossing the border village of Panmunjom, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
The soldier was crossing a jointly controlled area at the heavily guarded border, the South’s military said.
This is not the first time one of the North’s soldiers has made a break for the South. North Korean soldiers have occasionally defected to South Korea, 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 a few feet away, and be shot by fellow North Korean soldiers.
The soldier bolted from a guard post at the northern side of Panmunjom village in the Joint Security Area to the southern side of the village, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
He was shot in a shoulder and an elbow and was taken to a South Korean hospital, the South’s Defense Ministry said. It wasn’t immediately known how serious the soldier’s injuries were or why he decided to defect.
South Korean troops found the injured soldier south of the border after hearing gunfire ring out, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said, requesting anonymity, citing department rules. South Korean troops didn’t fire at the North, he said.
The defection came at a time of heightened tension over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and could increase hostilities between the two countries. North Korea has typically accused South Korea of enticing its citizens to defect, something the South denies.
About 30,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, but most travel through China.