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Regional News

North Korea defector regains consciousness, video shows getaway under fire

SEOUL (Reuters) — North Korean border guards were only steps behind a North Korean soldier when they opened fire and one briefly crossed the border pursuing the wounded defector as he dashed to the South Korean side, a video released on Wednesday by the U.N. Command or UNC in Seoul showed.

The defecting soldier, whose rank and identity have not been disclosed, was critically wounded, having been hit five or six times in the hail of bullets as he made his desperate escape on Nov.13. He was flown by a U.S. military helicopter to a hospital in Suwon, south of Seoul.

Doctors announced on Wednesday that he had regained consciousness, having had two operations to extract the bullets, and his breathing was stable and unassisted.

“He is fine,” lead surgeon Lee Cook-Jong said at a press conference in Suwon. “He is not going to die.”

An official from U.N. Command said North Korea had been informed on Wednesday that it had violated the 1953 armistice agreement, which marked the cessation of hostilities in the Korean War.

The UNC official told a news conference that a soldier from the North Korean People’s Army had crossed the Military Demarcation Line, the border between the two Koreas, for a few seconds as others fired shots at the defecting soldier.

“The key findings of the special investigation team are that the KPA violated the armistice agreement by one, firing weapons across the MDL, and two, by actually crossing the MDL temporarily,” Chad Carroll, Director of Public Affairs for the UNC, told reporters.

The incident comes at a time of heightened tensions between North Korea and the international community over its nuclear weapons program, but Pyongyang has not publicly responded to the high-profile defection at the sensitive border.

The dramatic video begins with a lone four-wheel army jeep military vehicle speeding along empty, tree-lined roads toward the border, passing checkpoints manned by North Korean guards who can be seen leaving their posts and running in pursuit as the vehicle races by.

After passing a memorial to North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, where tourists often gather for tours of the Joint Security Area inside the demilitarized zone, the vehicle runs into a ditch.

For several minutes the driver appears to try to free the vehicle, but the wheels spin uselessly in fallen leaves.

He finally sprinted for his life, scrambling up slightly rising ground to cross the border just seconds before at least four of his army comrades appear, firing in the direction that he has run.