The United Nations Command released a video showing a North Korean defecting to the South for the first time on Tuesday. In the dramatic clip from Nov. 13, you can see a North Korean soldier drive up to the border, exit his car, and make a desperate run for it as other soldiers open fire. The man, identified as a 24-year-old with the last name Oh, made it to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the two countries, and was taken to a hospital after being rescued by South Korean soldiers. He's believed to be the third North Korean soldier to defect this year.
Col. Chad G. Carroll, UN Command public affairs chief, said in a Wednesday news briefing that Oh was shot five times while trying to escape. Carroll also asserted that the North violated the 1953 Armistice Agreement when soldiers fired across the border and one crossed over to the South in pursuit of the defector.
The ceasefire agreement that effectively ended the war between the North and South created the DMZ (a 2.5-mile-wide buffer zone), but was only meant as a temporary measure while a more permanent peace treaty was negotiated. However, no such treaty was ever signed, and both sides frequently accuse the other of violating the 1953 agreement.
In fact, the North declared the ceasefire invalid in 2013, as a state newspaper said "the U.S. has reduced the armistice agreement to a dead paper" after the U.S. strengthened sanctions against the nation. Nevertheless, the agreement is still officially intact.
A separate video of the Nov. 13 defection showed three South Korean soldiers rescuing the injured North Korean soldier, but UN commander Gen. Vincent K. Brooks said Wednesday that their actions didn't violate the agreement. "After thoroughly reviewing the investigation results," Brooks said in a statement, "I assess the actions taken by the UNC Security Battalion were in a manner that is consistent with the Armistice Agreement, namely — to respect the Demilitarized Zone and to take actions that deter a resumption of hostilities." He added, "The armistice agreement was challenged but it remains in place."
Defecting to the South is extremely dangerous for any North Korean citizen, though about 780 did so successfully from January to August of this year. Only 3.5 percent were soldiers and government agents, while the majority was made up of farmers and workers trying to escape poverty. About 30,000 North Koreans have defected since the war ended in 1953, but most go through China, where they risk being sent back if caught in the country illegally. Defectors who are found out face brutal punishments by the North Korean regime, including time in prison camps or even death sentences.
The border is heavily guarded around the clock, and only a few people have managed to cross safely. Another young soldier who crossed the border in 2015 said he defected because of widespread abuse within the North Korean military. Though the details of how he made it across aren't known, there was no reported gunfire as in Oh's case.
Oh was reportedly given four pints of blood and had two major operations at Ajou University Hospital in Suwon. His doctor, Lee Cook-Jong, said he had regained consciousness, and explained in a press briefing that he is suffering "severe psychological stress and melancholy" from the gunshot wounds and will remain in the hospital for at least a few more days.
Oh's doctors also found dozens of parasites in his body, CNN reports, possibly from poor nutrition while in the North Korean armed forces. He is reportedly listening to K-pop and watching Korean and American shows, including CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, while recovering in the hospital.