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North Korea Makes Changes at Border After Defection

Soldiers dig a trench, plant trees
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 24, 2017 10:34 AM CST
North Korea Tightens Border in Low-Tech Fashion
The defection, as captured on surveillance video.   (United Nations Command via AP, File)

(Newser) – North Korea is trying to make sure that no others will be able to defect the way that a young soldier did last week. The fixes aren't exactly high-tech: North Korean soldiers were seen digging a big trench in the border area where the soldier first drove and then ran to freedom, reports Reuters. They also planted trees, apparently to prevent vehicles from getting through in the future. Finally, North Korea also seems to have replaced all of its border security guards, reports the Yonhap news agency, which surmises that any officers involved are in for serious punishment. Details and developments:

  • The soldier: "He's a pretty nice guy," the lead South Korean surgeon says of the 24-year-old defector, identified only by the name "Oh." The patient likes Bruce Almighty and CSI, though USA Today notes it's unclear whether he saw that US movie and show in the hospital or previously in North Korea on the black market. Oh faces a long recuperation, having been shot at least five times. One bullet decimated his colon.
  • The surgeon: The incident has put the spotlight, again, on 48-year-old trauma surgeon Lee Cook-jong. Lee is the one giving regular updates after the surgeries he performs, and the Washington Post reports that he previously became a "national hero" in 2011 when he saved the life of a ship captain shot by Somali pirates. That feat became the subject of a medical drama. Lee, blind in one eye, also served as the inspiration for a character in a second drama called Romantic Doctor, Teacher Kim, which was released last year and gave him certifiable celeb status. The Post uses the terms "heartthrob" and "McDreamy" in the profile.
  • Next for Oh: The surgeon, taking note of Oh's "jarhead" haircut, jokingly suggested that Oh eventually join the South Korean military: "He smiled and said that he would never ever go back to the military system again." When he's stronger, Oh will be debriefed. Then he'll get help with housing, education, and job training from the South Korean government, reports the Guardian.

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  • Reason for lull? After a flurry of tests, North Korea hasn't launched a missile since September. Vox runs through various theories about why, including the notion that Pyongyang is waiting until early 2018, when the South hosts the Olympics. Other theories are more down to earth: Tests are difficult in the harsh winter, and troops might be busy harvesting food anyway.
  • Back to the US: South Korea has deported a Michigan man found wandering near the North-South border last week, reports the Los Angeles Times. Bruce Lowrance told authorities that he wanted to help resolve the conflict between North Korea and the international community over the North's nuclear program. Lowrance is believed to be in his late 50s, and details about his trip and his plans remain unclear.
  • Former prisoner: Also last week, an American once detained by North Korea after illegally crossing the border burned to death in a San Diego field. Police think the death of Aijalon Mahli Gomes was either an accident or a suicide, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. Gomes, 38, had been freed in 2010 after being held by the North less than a year. At the time he crossed the border, Gomes had been living in South Korea and working as a teacher.
(Read more North Korea stories.)

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