SEOUL – South Korean media are reporting that military authorities have surrounded a soldier who killed five comrades at a border outpost the day before and were engaged in a gunfight with him.
Yonhap News agency and the YTN news channel said Sunday that authorities were trying to persuade the soldier, identified only by his family name Yim, to surrender.
Yim opened fire Saturday night with his standard issue K2 assault rifle at an outpost in Gangwon province, east of Seoul, killing five fellow soldiers and wounding seven others, according to a Defense Ministry spokesman who insisted on anonymity.
Yim, who was scheduled to be discharged from the military in September, fled with his weapon, but it wasn’t clear how much live ammunition he had, the official said.
Defense official Kim Min-seok said Sunday at a televised briefing that all the wounded were expected to survive, although two were injured seriously. He said search operations were under way to quickly find Yim, without elaborating.
Park Cheol-yong, the head of Madal village, near the army division where the gunfire took place, said he warned villagers to stay in their houses. Park Jin-soo, a pastor at a church in the village, said that Sunday services would take place as usual despite the tension over the missing soldier and the shooting.
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 was angry about being shunned and slighted and 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 aimed at countering aggression from 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.