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N. Korea soldier makes dash for South

He’s injured but gets there; American arrested trying to cross control line

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Photographs by AP/Yonhap/HONG KI-WON

A South Korean soldier (second from left) stands nearby as medical personnel treat an injured person, believed to be a North Korean soldier, on Monday at a hospital in Suwon, South Korea.

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korean soldiers shot at and wounded a fellow soldier who was crossing a jointly controlled area at the heavily guarded border to defect to South Korea on Monday, the South's military said.

An American man also tried unsuccessfully to cross into the North.

A 58-year-old man from Louisiana was arrested by South Korean forces Monday morning for crossing the Civilian Control Line, just outside the Demilitarized Zone, as part of an attempt to get into North Korea "for political purposes," authorities said.

A resident of the border county of Yeoncheon, 40 miles north of Seoul, saw the man and alerted police, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

The man, identified only as "A," had arrived in South Korea only three days earlier.

The American Embassy in Seoul was aware of the report and was looking into it, an official said. "If it is determined that a U.S. citizen has been detained, the U.S. Embassy will provide appropriate consular services," he said.

North Korean soldiers have occasionally defected to South Korea across the border. But it's rare for a North Korean soldier to defect via the Joint Security Area, where border guards of the rival Koreas stand facing one another just feet away, and to be shot by fellow North Korean soldiers.

The soldier bolted from a guard post at the northern side of Panmunjom village in the Joint Security Area to the southern side of the village, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. He was shot in the shoulder and elbow, and was taken to a South Korean hospital, the South's Defense Ministry said. It wasn't immediately known how serious the soldier's injuries were or why he decided to defect.

South Korean troops found the injured soldier south of the border after hearing sounds of gunfire, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said, requesting anonymity, citing department rules. South Korean troops didn't fire at the North, he said.

The defection came at a time of heightened tension over North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

About 30,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, but most of them travel through China.

Panmunjom, once an obscure farming village inside the 2½-mile-wide DMZ that separates the two Koreas, is where an armistice was signed to pause the Korean War. Jointly controlled by the American-led U.N. Command and North Korea, the DMZ is guarded on both sides by hundreds of thousands of combat-ready troops, razor-wire fences and tank traps. More than a million mines are believed to be buried in the zone.

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.

At the United Nations, North Korea warned that the unprecedented deployment of three U.S. aircraft carrier groups "taking up a strike posture" around the Korean peninsula is making it impossible to predict when nuclear war will break out.

North Korea's U.N. Ambassador Ja Song Nam said in a letter to Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres on Monday that the joint military exercises with South Korea are creating "the worst ever situation prevailing in and around the Korean peninsula."

Along with the three carrier groups, he said the U.S. has reactivated round-the-clock sorties with nuclear-capable B-52 strategic bombers.

He also said the U.S. is maintaining "a surprise strike posture with frequent flight of B-1B and B-2 formations to the airspace of South Korea."

The four-day joint naval exercises by the U.S. and South Korea, which began Saturday in waters off the South's eastern coast, were described by military officials as a clear warning to North Korea. They involve the carrier battle groups of the USS Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz, which include 11 U.S. Aegis ships that can track missiles, and seven South Korean naval vessels.

Defense Secretary James Mattis insisted Monday that the carrier maneuvers are not extraordinary.

"There's no big message" intended for North Korea or anyone else, he told reporters in an impromptu exchange in a Pentagon hallway. "This is what we normally do with allies."

Reminded that it had been 10 years since the previous three-carrier exercise, Mattis noted that the Navy has a limited number of carriers and can't often put three in the same place.

Information for this article was contributed by Hyung-jin Kim and Edith Lederer of The Associated Press; and by Anna Fifield of The Washington Post.

A Section on 11/14/2017

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