PANMUNJOM, Korea-- South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo on Monday visited the Joint Security Area (JSA) of the Panmunjom truce village, the stage of a dramatic defection by a North Korean soldier earlier this month.
Bullet traces from shots fired by North Korean guards as they tried to stop their follow soldier sprinting toward South Korea on Nov. 13 remain vividly apparent in the southern section of the JSA.
In an unprecedented move for the South's defense chief, Song toured the JSA guard unit's second observation post right next to the military demarcation line (MDL), which marks the inter-Korean border.
He viewed the defector's route across the MDL in person, as U.S. Army Col. Steve Lee, secretary of the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC), briefed him on the details of the incident.
Joining the meeting were U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas W. Bergeson, who is the UNC's deputy commander, and two representatives from the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission: Army Maj. Gen. Patrick Gauchat of Switzerland and Rear Adm. Anders Grenstad of Sweden.
The minister lauded South Korean and U.S. troops at the JSA for taking "very appropriate" measures in response to the rare defection of a North Korean soldier via Panmunjom.
The defector apparently attempted to cross the MDL by military jeep. When his vehicle got stuck in a ditch, he jumped out of it and dashed toward the South trailed by fellow soldiers firing gun shots, one of whom stepped into the South's zone before hurrying back to the North.
The defector collapsed after being hit five times. A team of South Korean guards crawled on their stomachs and pulled him to safety.
He is recuperating after surgery at Ajou University Hospital in Suwon, south of Seoul.
The UNC announced that the North violated the Armistice Agreement twice by trespassing on the MDL and firing shots across it. Bullet traces were clearly seen on the wall of a building and even a tree.
Song added that the North's soldiers' carrying of automatic rifles also breached the accord.
He stressed the JSA troops responded calmly to the situation and successfully managed it.
"The JSA is an area operated as the venue of negotiations for South-North dialogue under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Command since the establishment of the Armistice Agreement," he said, adding that it is different from general outposts.
He was apparently mindful of criticism that the South's troops should have responded with fire, or at least warning shots, as the North's soldiers sprayed bullets, some of which flew over the MDL.
The South's military said its guards acted in accordance with the UNC's rules of engagement. The forces in the JSA operate under the day-to-day control of the UNC, a signatory to the 1953 Armistice Agreement.
The UNC's commanding general, Vincent K. Brooks, visited the JSA troops on Thanksgiving Day last week. He bestowed medals on six soldiers for the rescue operation. Gen. Brooks commands the 28,500 American troops in South Korea.
Meanwhile, the minister has come under fire for an apparent slip of the tongue.
He started a mess hall speech for troops at Panmunjom, saying there's a talk that "When it comes to miniskirts and pre-meal addresses, the shorter, the better."
He immediately faced Internet-driven criticism that he had made inappropriate remarks publicly at the frontier in his role as defense chief.
He soon issued a statement offering an apology.
He said he just wanted to tell the soldiers that he would make his speech short, as he was late at the venue and felt sorry.
"I am very sorry in that there was an inappropriate expression different from my real intention," he said.
Source: Yonhap News Agency