N. Korean soldier who defected used a vehicle to escape

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The man, 58, identified only as "A", was arrested by South Korea's military after crossing the Civilian Control Line, a restricted border area near the demilitarized zone, or DMZ, that formally separates the two Koreas.

A soldier from the Korean People's Army (KPA) has defected to the South at Panmunjom, Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said on Monday.

Four North Korean soldiers fired 40 rounds at a comrade fleeing into South Korea and hit him five times in the first shooting at the jointly controlled area of the heavily fortified border since 1984, the South's military said Tuesday.

Moon Sang-gyun, the South's defense ministry spokesman, said military operations at the JSA were usually conducted under the orders of the U.N. Command, which is in turn under orders from the USA military.

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The fact that the defector drove to the frontier suggests he may not have been a member of the elite corps of North Korean troops posted to Panmunjom, who are carefully vetted and selected for their loyalty.

He apparently underscored the importance of their ties, saying his country had as much at stake as South Korea in establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula.

"His organs are extremely damaged... we do not know how long he can hold up", Lee said, describing the soldier's condition as "very serious".

A JCS official quoted by Yonhap news agency said the South's soldiers heard a gunshot and then retrieved the unarmed soldier in the mid-afternoon.

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The United States has been sending its strategic assets, also including long-range bombers, to the region more frequently for patrols or drills amid accelerating North Korean efforts to expand its nuclear weapons program. A U.N. Command helicopter later transported him to the Ajou medical center, according to South Korean officials.

The soldier's successful escape makes only the fourth defection by a North Korean soldier through the DMZ in the last three years, the BBC reported.

Areas around Panmunjom were the site of bloodshed and defection attempts by North Koreans in the past, but there have been no such incidents in recent years.

But there was no direct exchange of gunfire between South and North Korean guards in the process.

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