SEOUL – A day after trading gunfire, troops on Monday tightened a cordon around a South Korean soldier who killed five comrades at an outpost near the border with North Korea and went on the run.
Officials said the military was using loudspeakers overnight to try to persuade the sergeant, identified only by his surname, Yim, to surrender. Authorities brought Yim’s parents to the forest about 10 kilometers from the border outpost to talk to him, said a Defense Ministry official who asked not to be named, citing department rules.
One platoon leader was wounded when Yim fired Sunday on the military personnel closing in on him, the official said. Troops fired back. Villagers in the area were warned not to leave their houses. The head of a nearby village, Jang Seok-kwon, said he heard gunshots ring out about 10 times Sunday.
Yim threw a grenade and then opened fire Saturday night with his standard issue K2 assault rifle at the outpost near the North Korean border in Gangwon province, east of Seoul, killing five fellow soldiers and wounding seven others, the military said.
Yim, who was scheduled to be discharged from the military in September, fled with his weapon, but it was unclear how much live ammunition he had.
A Defense Ministry official confirmed Yim had been considered a “protected and watched soldier,” which means he needed special attention among servicemen. The official said the South Korean military assigns such status based on servicemen’s periodical personality assessments.
Yim was designated a grade A protected soldier in April last year — one with a high risk of suicide attempt or inducing other accidents who could not serve at heavily guarded outposts. He then improved to grade B status last November, which means he was being watched closely but could serve at outposts at a commander’s discretion.
Thousands of troops from the rival Koreas are squared off along the world’s most heavily armed border.
There was no indication that North Korea was involved. But tensions between the two countries have been high recently, with North Korea staging a series of missile and artillery drills and threatening South Korea’s leader. The Koreas have also traded fire along their disputed maritime border in the Yellow Sea. South Korea has repeatedly vowed to respond with strength if provoked by the North.
Shootings happen occasionally at the border.
In 2011, a 19-year-old marine corporal went on a shooting rampage at a Gwanghwa Island base, just south of the maritime border with North Korea. Military investigators later said that corporal had been angry about being shunned and slighted and had showed signs of mental illness before the shooting.
In 2005, a soldier tossed a hand grenade and opened fire at a front-line army unit in a rampage that killed eight colleagues and injured several others. Pfc. Kim Dong-min told investigators he was enraged at superiors who verbally abused him.
All able-bodied South Korean men must serve about two years in the military under a conscription system centered on the standoff with North Korea.
The Korean Peninsula is still technically in a state of war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 U.S. soldiers are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against North Korean aggression.