The United Nations Command (UNC) says it is investigating into the case of a North Korean soldier, who was, according to Seoul, shot multiple times while defecting to the South.
The UNC said in a statement on Tuesday that it had initiated an investigation into the Monday incident, when the North Korean troops are said to have opened fire on a fellow soldier across Panmunjom, a village that straddles the border between the two Koreas.
Suh Wook, chief director of operations at South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the defector drove a vehicle toward the border line when a wheel came loose, forcing him to escape on foot under fire from four North Korean soldiers who shot around 40 rounds at him.
The soldier was found unarmed about 50 meters (150 feet) south of the heavily-guarded Military Demarcation Line, and taken to a hospital with gunshot wounds to an elbow and shoulder.
South Korean officials have yet to identify exactly where the soldier came from and what his intentions were.
North Korea has not yet made any comments on the reports.
However, Suh said the defector was found unarmed while still in his uniform, which indicated he held a lower rank.
The United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC), which oversees the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War, said it had informed the North Korean military that the soldier was undergoing surgery for his gunshot wounds.
Suh also said Seoul had later informed Pyongyang of the soldier and his ongoing treatment via loudspeakers installed at the border.
South Korea’s government and military officials said Tuesday that the North Korean soldier had undergone several surgical procedures and is in a critical condition.
Lee Cook-jong, the surgeon in charge of the soldier’s treatment, said his condition was critical due to intestinal damage caused by the bullets.
South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo told lawmakers that it was the first time North Korean soldiers had fired towards the South’s side of the border, prompting complaints from some lawmakers the South’s military should have also fired shots towards the North.
It was the first time in a decade that a North Korean soldier had defected at the truce village, the only part of the frontier where forces from the two sides come face-to-face.
Pyongyang has in the past complained that North Korean defectors had been abducted by Seoul, and it has demanded their release.
The defecting comes amid escalating tensions between North Korea and its neighbors, South Korea and Japan, as well as the US.
Washington is currently holding joint naval drills with South Korea in Korean waters, in what could lead to a sharp rise in tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Pyongyang views such drills as a rehearsal for war against North Korea, and has repeatedly called, in vain, on its neighbors, including South Korea and Japan, not to engage in joint exercises with Washington.