Military.com

Watch North Korean Defector's Harrowing Escape Through Hail of Bullets

This image made from Nov. 13, 2017, surveillance video released by the U.N. command shows a North Korean soldier running before being shot by North Korean soldiers. (United Nations Command via AP)
This image made from Nov. 13, 2017, surveillance video released by the U.N. command shows a North Korean soldier running before being shot by North Korean soldiers. (United Nations Command via AP)

The defector gave up on trying to free the jeep from a ditch and took off on a zigzag sprint up a slope to dodge the bullets he knew would be coming.

The goal was the white demarcation line separating North Korea from South Korea in the 2.5- mile-wide Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ.

Close behind the defector, North Korean troops opened fire. One dropped to a prone position for better accuracy. Others stood and fired handguns.

One of the North Korean soldiers gave chase and briefly stepped across the demarcation line in violation of the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War. He ran back.

The defector went down in a pile of leaves next to a building just across the white line on the South Korean side. He was hit at least five times by North Korean rounds.

Two South Korean Army sergeants went to his rescue in a low crawl. It was unclear if they also were being fired upon. They dragged him to safety.

The South Koreans put the 24-year-old defector on a U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter for a medevac to a hospital in Suwon, about 50 miles south of the DMZ.

The dramatic video from surveillance footage of the Nov. 13 escape was released Tuesday night by the U.S.-led United Nations Command, which condemned North Korea's actions as a violation of the 1953 truce.

In a statement, the U.N. Command said a Special Investigation Team had concluded that the North Korean People's Army [KPA] had violated the 1953 agreement twice in the incident -- once by firing across the Military Demarcation Line and again when the North Korean soldier crossed the line.

The statement said that U.N. personnel at the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom on the DMZ had requested a meeting with the KPA "to discuss the investigation results and measures to prevent future such violations."

Army Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, who leads the U.N. Command and U.S. Forces-Korea, said, "The armistice agreement was challenged, but it remains in place."

He said the troops in his command on the DMZ had acted "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."

By Wednesday, North Korea had yet to comment on the defection, the first by a North Korean soldier across the DMZ since 2007.

South Korean officials said the defector -- identified thus far only by his surname "Oh" -- was wounded five or six times in the elbow, shoulder and torso, but was recovering and had regained consciousness after several surgeries.

South Korean media reported that his first request was to listen to South Korea's wildly popular "K-pop" music. He also reportedly said he wants to study law.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency, citing a government official, said, "The soldier has regained consciousness and he requested to watch television. For the soldier's psychological comfort, we've shown the patient South Korean movies, and he has recovered enough to watch television."

However, "The defector is suffering from fear and heavy stress from the gunshots that wounded him," Yonhap reported. "To give psychological comfort that he is in South Korea, the medical staff apparently placed the South Korean flag in the patient's room and are also treating him through psychotherapy."

During the surgeries, doctors found the defector's digestive tract riddled with 10-inch parasitic worms, possible evidence of the poor hygiene and nutrition in North Korea, South Korean officials said.

The defection comes amid heightened tensions in the region over North Korea's nuclear and missile tests, and the back-and-forth insults traded by U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

On Tuesday, Trump placed North Korea back on the list of nations supporting terrorism and announced tightened economic sanctions.

More than 30,000 North Koreans have fled to the South since the 1990s, when a widespread famine devastated the North. Most have fled by first traveling through China to avoid the DMZ, the most heavily mined area on Earth.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.