A visitor walks by a map of two Koreas at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017. South Korea’s military fired 20 rounds of warning shots Thursday as North Korean soldiers approached a borderline after their comrade defected to South Korea, officials said. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

South Korea fires warning shots after North soldier defects

South Korean soldiers fired warning shots at North Korean soldiers chasing a comrade

South Korean soldiers fired 20 warning machine-gun rounds Thursday, turning back North Korean soldiers apparently pursuing a comrade who had earlier dashed across the rivals’ shared border, officials said. It is the fourth time this year a North Korean soldier has defected across the world’s most heavily armed border.

South Korean military officials said they heard gunfire from the North after South Korea fired its warning shots, but it wasn’t clear if the firing was retaliatory. Neither side immediately reported casualties.

North Korean soldiers occasionally flee over the land border, but there have been few defections as dramatic as one that happened nearly 40 days ago, when a northern soldier crossed at a different, very public place — a jointly controlled area that is the only place where troops from the rivals face off only feet away from each other. That soldier was shot five times by his former comrades in an escape caught on video. He has been recovering in a hospital. The site of that defection is familiar to many foreign tourists, who can visit the blue huts that straddle the line between the rivals.

Related: North Korea says war is inevitable

Thursday’s defection happened at a much more remote section of the 4 kilometre (2.5 mile)-wide, 248-kilometre (155-mile) -long Demilitarized Zone, which serves as the border between the Koreas. When the defecting soldier — reportedly a 19-year-old — arrived at a front-line South Korean guard post, there was no shooting from the North, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. Spokesman Roh Jae-cheon said the motive for the defection is under investigation.

Later Thursday, however, South Korea’s military detected several North Korean soldiers approaching the line between the countries in the DMZ, prompting the South to broadcast a warning and fire 20 warning shots, said a South Korean defence official, requesting anonymity because of department rules.

Related: North Korea launches another missile

The North Korean soldiers who approached the line were believed to be on a mission to hunt down their defecting comrade. They turned back to the North after the South’s warning shots, the official said. About 40 minutes later, soldiers twice heard several rounds of gunshot on the North Korean side of the border. No North Korean bullets were found in the South, the official said.

The latest defection was the fourth North Korean soldier to flee through the DMZ this year, the Defence Ministry said. About 30,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea mostly via China since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

In a separate incident, two North Korean men found aboard a wooden boat off the east coast on Wednesday asked to resettle in the South, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry.

Animosities run high on the Korean Peninsula as North Korea has been accelerating its weapons tests as part of its stated goal of achieving a nuclear missile capable of striking anywhere in the United States. Last month, North Korea test-fired its biggest and most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile to date.

Related: Vernon man confined in North Korea

Hyung-Jin Kim, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nine new COVID-19 cases announced in Interior Health region

The total number of cases since the pandemic started is now at 531 for the region

Two ways to celebrate Business Excellence Awards this Saturday in Penticton

Chamber offers in-person and virtual options to congratulate business and community leaders

South Okanagan businesses surveyed on impact of COVID-19 during summer

Hospitality businesses are being asked to fill out a questionnaire

RCMP seeking witnesses to fatal Peachland motorcycle crash on Highway 97

One person died following a motorcycle crash south of Peachland on Sunday afternoon

Out of character for Okanagan woman to go missing

Karee Lynn Kamis, 64, was last seen in Penticton on Sept. 18

Weekend sees 267 cases, 3 deaths in B.C.; Dr. Henry says events leading to COVID spread

There are currently 1,302 active cases in B.C., while 3,372 people are under public health monitoring

Lightning strike: Tampa Bay blanks Dallas 2-0 to win Stanley Cup

Hedman wins Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP

Motorcycle rider identified following fatal crash in Peachland

Michael Odenbach died in a motorcycle collision on Sept. 27

Liberals seek to fast track new COVID-19 aid bill after CERB expires

Government secured NDP support for legislation by hiking amount of benefits by $100 to $500 per week

B.C. VOTES 2020: Echoes of HST in B.C. debate over sales tax

Cannabis, tobacco, luxury cars still taxed in B.C. Liberal plan

Shuswap BC SPCA launches spay/neuter program for low-income residents

Program available to low-income residents in the region

More victims possible in Okanagan assault case

Vernon police have a man in custody but feel there could be more victims in the case

She warned her son about toxic drugs, then he was dead

Donna Bridgman’s son died at the age of 38 in Vancouver

Most Read