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ROK border guards kill man heading for DPRK

By Agence France-Presse in Seoul | China Daily | Updated: 2013-09-18 07:50

Republic of Korea troops fired "hundreds" of rounds at a man trying to swim to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and killed him, a top army officer said Tuesday.

In the first official news conference since the incident on Monday, Brigadier General Cho Jong-sul defended the border guards' actions, saying they had followed the correct protocol.

Nam Yong-ho, a 47-year-old ROK man, was fatally shot at about 2:30 pm while trying to swim across the Imjin River, which delineates part of the western border with the DPRK.

Cho said soldiers at a nearby guard post had repeatedly shouted warnings at Nam to turn back, but he ignored them.

The commander then ordered the unit to open fire, and 30 of them discharged their weapons.

"Several hundred shots were fired," Cho said.

Defections from the ROK to the DPRK are rare, and ROK troops have not shot anyone attempting the crossing in the past 20 years.

Nam's motive is unclear. Defense Ministry officials believe he was trying to defect, but have been unable to explain why he would try to swim across the heavily guarded border in daylight.

He had clearly planned the crossing and was wearing a homemade life preserver.

Cho said the border guards had responded correctly.

"Soldiers are supposed to shoot those who ignore military warnings and run away at border areas," he said.

"It was an urgent situation, considering he could have gone to the North (DPRK) fairly quickly using the flotation device he was wearing," he said.

Nam was carrying his passport, which showed he had sought political asylum in Japan in June, but had been rejected and deported.

Because the 1950-53 Korean War concluded with an armistice rather than peace treaty, Pyongyang and Seoul technically remain in a state of conflict.

Seoul's Vice-Minister of National Defense Baek Seung-joo said the soldiers had acted properly and that the heavily fortified Korean border was "different" from other frontiers.

"It may be hard to understand for foreigners ... but the two countries are still at war," Baek told foreign journalists in Seoul.

Baek said the military was trained to view any attempted defection as an "extreme situation" and assume a worst-case scenario - a major national security breach - should it be successful.

(China Daily 09/18/2013 page10)

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