SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA —
North Korea appears to have replaced all of its guards at a jointly patrolled border area where a North Korean soldier defected last week under a hail of gunfire, South Korean media said Friday. Military officials said they could not confirm the report.
Yonhap news agency cited an unnamed intelligence source saying there were signs the North had replaced its entire security force of 35 to 40 men at the Joint Security Area. South Korea's Defense Ministry and the U.S.-led United Nations Command said Friday they couldn’t confirm it.
WATCH: Dramatic Defection of North Korea Soldier
The source also told Yonhap the North seems to have temporarily closed a bridge over which the defector drove a military jeep to reach the border before his dramatic escape on foot last Monday. A photo posted on the Twitter account of the acting U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Marc Knapper, showed North Korean workers using shovels to dig what Knapper said was a trench at the spot where the defector crossed the border.
According to South Korea’s military, four North Korean soldiers using handguns and AK-47 assault rifles fired about 40 rounds at the defector, who rushed across the line that divides the Koreas after getting his vehicle stuck in a ditch. He was shot five times and is now recovering at a hospital near Seoul where he was operated on twice to repair internal organ damage and other injuries.
After investigating the incident, the U.N. Command said Wednesday it concluded that North Korea violated the armistice agreement ending the 1950-53 Korean War because its soldiers fired across and physically crossed the border in pursuit of the defector. It said officials notified the North's military of these violations and requested a meeting to discuss the investigation results and measures to prevent such violations.
The JSA is jointly overseen by the American-led U.N. Command and by North Korea, with South Korean and North Korean border guards facing each other only meters (feet) apart. It is located inside the 4-kilometer (2½-mile) -wide Demilitarized Zone, which forms the de facto border between the Koreas since the Korean War.