North Korean soldiers fired around 40 rounds from their AK-47 assault rifles at a soldier who fled to South Korea on Monday, but South Korean soldiers did nothing in response.
The UN Command is investigating whether any North Korean troops crossed over the military demarcation line, which is under its control, during the chase. Under the rules of engagement, South Korean troops are required to fire warning shots if North Korean soldiers shoot their weapons across the MDL.
Suh Wook, the chief director of operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a National Assembly hearing Tuesday that three North Korean soldiers were spotted south of a pavillion in the border truce village of Panmunjom and a North Korean jeep was seen speeding south a minute later.
Some 15 minutes later South Korean soldiers found the defector among fallen leaves 50 m from the MDL. The military appears to have lost track of developments after the North Korean jeep sped south because a whole 15 minutes went by until they found the soldier. The military seems to have put the pieces together later from CCTV footage.
The defector ran across the border after the jeep he was driving got stuck in a ditch 10 m north of the MDL.
A military source here said, "It was difficult for our soldiers to monitor the situation due to dense foliage. The incident was over after some rounds were fired and before our troops could determine what was going on."
The source said the area of the border truce village is under the jurisdiction of the UNC, so South Korean troops did not feel the situation required them to fire back.
Suh explained that South Korean soldiers there are instructed to fire back only if they are facing harm and must assess whether returning fire could escalate the situation. "The commander of the UNC determines what to do after those two things have been assessed," he added.
A large number of the rounds fired at the defector probably flew into South Korean territory. Military authorities plan to investigate the incident and lodge a strong protest against the North.
Meanwhile, the defector, who was rushed to Ajou University Hospital in Suwon on Monday afternoon, suffered five gunshot wounds, including two in the abdomen. He underwent emergency surgery to remove the bullets, according to the JCS.
Military officials initially said the defector was in stable condition, but Lee Kook-jong, the doctor who conducted the surgery, told reporters later that it was too early to determine whether he will survive.
A North Korean soldier lies in bed at Ajou University Hospital in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province on Tuesday.