United States military officials Wednesday released dramatic video showing the daring defection — and eventual rescue — of a North Korean soldier who barreled across the Demilitarized Zone in a truck and then ran as fellow troops fired on him.
The video, shot the afternoon of Nov. 13, shows the soldier speeding down a road toward the Joint Security Area, a border outpost that's been the site of military skirmishes and diplomatic talks between the Koreas, still technically at war, and the U.S.
The soldier can be seen driving in a green military-style vehicle past a North Korean checkpoint before wheeling past a monument inside the area, where soldiers from both sides of the conflict are posted in relatively close proximity. The footage is a series of videos taken from different cameras at different angles.
At the start of the most dramatic section of the video, around the 2:27 mark, North Korean soldiers can be seen running from a building that faces the South Korean side of the compound. They pursue the soldier, firing as he abandons his vehicle, which appeared stuck in a grassy area. He then runs, collapsing against a concrete wall amid a pile of fallen leaves.
At around the 6-minute mark, South Korean soldiers can be seen crawling to rescue the defector. They finally reach him and drag him to safety.
The soldier, shot several times, underwent surgery and treatment for parasitic worms, doctors said, before regaining consciousness on Tuesday. His prognosis is uncertain.
The incident — one of many over the years at the border crossing — has captured the attention of South Korean news media amid heightened tensions over the communist country's development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
During the incident, U.S. forces say, a North Korean soldier crossed a military demarcation line — a potential violation of the uneasy armistice between the countries set after the Korean War. The incident is among many skirmishes over the years at the location, a famous spot among tourists and visiting dignitaries because of its close proximity to North Korean soldiers.
When U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited the site in the spring, soldiers from the North could be seen peering into one of the huts designated for inter-Korean talks. The site has been generally quiet in recent years, but in the 1980s a Russian tourist tried to flee from the North, causing a shootout that killed four soldiers.
Among the most famous skirmishes was the 1976 "ax murder incident." In that case, United States and South Korean forces attempting to trim a poplar tree on the border in the summer of 1976 were attacked by North Korean counterparts wielding axes and knives. Two U.S. Army officers, Arthur Bonifas and Mark Barrett, were killed.
The incident prompted President Ford to approve Operation Paul Bunyan, a massive show of force three days later in which dozens of allied service members — including some in attack helicopters and long-range bombers — supervised the felling of the tree. A memorial remains in its place. One of the soldiers there was Moon Jae-in, now South Korea's president.
United States military officials here said their investigation shows that North Korean forces violated the armistice agreement by firing their weapons across the military demarcation line, which is intended to prevent armed skirmishes at the site.
American officials said that North Korean officials received a notice Wednesday about the alleged violations and that a meeting had been requested to discuss the issue.
Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, who commands U.S. forces in South Korea and at the DMZ, said security forces on the South Korean side of the compound acted appropriately and sought to deescalate the situation.
"The armistice agreement was challenged, but it remains in place," he said in a written statement.
Stiles is a special correspondent.