Defecting North Korean soldier shot several times after abandoning escape vehicle

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The soldier took cover behind a South Korean structure within the Joint Security Area (JSA) inside the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas and was later rescued by South Korean and US soldiers at the border, the United Nations Command (UNC) said in a separate statement. Internal organ damage is so severe that it will take two or three days to find out whether he can survive an operation.

"The defector was urgently transferred to a hospital in a helicopter of the United Nations Command, and there was no exchange of fire with our side", a South Korean defense ministry official told Reuters.

The number of North Koreans defecting to South Korea in the first two-thirds of this year dropped by 13% compared with 2016.

A North Korean soldier is expected to survive critical wounds he received when his old comrades fired a hail of bullets at him as he made a defection dash to South Korea, the South's government and military said on Tuesday.

"He crossed from a North Korea post towards our [South Korean] Freedom House", the South said in a statement.

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The former president served as CIA director in the 1970s, and the agency's headquarters in Langley, Va., is named for him. The incidents have also raised questions about the role of his family in preventing such contacts from occurring.

Seoul says more than 30,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the end of the Korean War in 1953. "Xi said that South Korea-China relations are at a critical point and that the two countries must respect their key interests and their grave concerns, safeguard reciprocal trust in political affairs and strengthen communication and cooperation", China's Foreign Ministry reported.

Three U.S. aircraft carriers steam in formation in the East Sea, leading South Korean and U.S. warships during the allies' joint naval exercise on November 12, 2017, in this photo provided by South Korea's Navy.

"Our military maintains full readiness while strengthening the alert in preparation for the possibility of provocations by the North Korean army", the JCS said. 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. The last time a soldier crossed was in 2007, and before that in 1998.

In recent months, North Korea has tested intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the US mainland with further development and has conducted its most powerful nuclear test. In 1998, a North Korean solider fled to South Korea via Panmunjom. South Korea said the 12 women, and one man, had chosen to defect to the South.

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