United Nations Command Decides To Not Release Footage of North Korean Defector’s Escape

My guess on not releasing this footage may be that the UNC does not want to rub it in the face of the Kim regime that one of their soldiers defected when they have been quiet recently:

The United Nations Command has put off a plan to release video footage of a North Korean soldier’s dramatic escape across a jointly patrolled area in the heart of the Demilitarized Zone.

The soldier defected to the South on Monday by driving a military jeep to the line that divides the peninsula, then rushing across it under a hail of gunfire from his former comrades.

The defector was severely wounded by the gunfire and has been hospitalized. His doctor, Lee Guk-jong, told reporters his condition was stabilized after a second operation on Wednesday, but he was riddled with parasites that were complicating his recovery.

Officials with the UNC, which is commanded by U.S. Army Gen. Vincent Brooks and has authority over the Joint Security Area, said earlier this week they would make public footage from surveillance cameras that monitored the border dash.

But the UNC issued a press release Friday summarizing already-known facts of the case and saying it will not release more details or material until an investigation is completed.  [Stars & Stripes]

You can read the rest at the link.

North Korean Soldier Tried to Defect By Driving Car Across the DMZ

This would have been the first ever defection by car that I know of if the North Korean soldier turned defector was able to pull this off and drive a car across the DMZ:

A North Korean soldier who defected to South Korea via the truce village of Panmunjom earlier this week drove a car to the area, the authorities said Tuesday.

“(He) then exited the vehicle and continued fleeing south” across the military demarcation line (MDL) after being shot by North Korean troops, according to the United Nations Command (UNC).

The individual, presumed to be a North Korean soldier, “initially took cover near a building on the southern side of the JSA,” the UNC said, using the abbreviation for the Joint Security Area (JSA).

Four North Korean soldiers chased him, firing shots with their pistols and AK-47 rifles, an official at the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, citing CCTV footage of the scene.

He was hit by five rounds while running away from the North in the area inside the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ), he added.

It’s also unclear whether the North’s troops actually crossed the MDL, even for seconds, during the hunt. (……)

The car sped towards a guard post but its wheels fell into a nearby drain, the JCS spokesman Army Col. Roh Jae-cheon said earlier. At the time of the defection, the soldier was clad in the Korean People’s Army uniform and had no weapon, he added.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

DMZ Flashpoints: The 1983 Hijacking of CAAC Flight 296 to Camp Page

Introduction

There has been some strange incidents over the years involving the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), but one of the weirdest was when a hijacked Chinese airliner crossed over the DMZ on May 5, 1983 and landed at the US Army base Camp Page.  This was the first successful hijacking of a Chinese plane that ultimately ended up leading to the thawing of relations between South Korea and China.


Example of a CAAC Trident Jet that was hijacked. 

The Hijacking

The hijacked plane was a British made Trident jet that was part of China’s state owned airline called the Civilian Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).  The plane CAAC Flight 296 was making a routine domestic flight between Shenyang in northeast China and Shanghai with 96 passengers and 9 crew members on board when it was seized by 6 hijackers.  The hijackers were composed of five men and one woman who were armed with pistols and led by a man named An Weijian.  They used their weapons to blast open the door to the cockpit where during a skirmish for control of the plane a total of eight shots were fired wounding two crew members in the legs.  After successfully taking control of the aircraft the Chinese hijackers demanded to be flown to Taiwan where they hoped to defect.

Possibly fearing retribution from the Chinese government if he complied with the hijackers demands, the pilot did not fly the plane towards Taiwan, the pilot instead flew the plane towards Pyongyang.  1983 was during the Cold War when tensions were high and the pilot deciding to fly the airliner into North Korean airspace was a risky move.  He had no way of knowing how the North Koreans would react to an unannounced aircraft suddenly flying over their country.

The North Koreans initially reacted by monitoring the aircraft by radar.  However, since they were informed that it was a Chinese civilian airliner they took a wait and see approach with the aircraft.  The North Korea ground controllers may have even been working in concert with the pilot to dupe the hijackers since the North Korean Air Force did not dispatch any planes to intercept the airliner.  As the airliner approached Pyongyang’s Sunan Airport one of the hijackers noticed a big picture of North Korea’s leader, Kim Il-sung which tipped them off that they were being fooled by the pilot.  The hijackers forced the plane to divert the landing and instead head to South Korea.

After the aborted landing this is when the people on the airliner got very lucky.  It is likely that the North Korean government would want to stop this airliner from crossing the DMZ and entering South Korea.  However, the North Korean air defense authorities could not get a hold of the Kim Il-sung to authorize the shoot down of the aircraft.

Then, one of the hijackers detected something amiss when he saw a North Korean sign _ a big portrait of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the North and its then leader _ as the plane was approaching Pyongyang airport. The hijackers threatened the pilot at gunpoint, forcing him to abort the landing and head to the South. It landed at U.S. Camp Page in Chunchun, in the South’s Gangwon Province. Now, it took about 20 minutes for the the British-made HS121Trident aircraft to fly from Pyongyang to Chunchon with the North Korean air defense all but paralyzed.

The North Korean air defense commander was reprimanded for his failure to respond according to the manual for such an emergency. But he was spared from a firing squad because he tried without success to locate Kim Il-sung to gain his clearance to go after the aircraft as the regulations stipulated. Kim was out of touch and nobody except for him could make a decision about such a situation.  [Korea Times]

Due to the command paralyzation in North Korea, the Chinese airliner was able to safely cross the DMZ where it landed at the US military base of Camp Page outside the city of Chuncheon:

Hijackers Give Themselves Up at Camp Page

After the plane crossed over the DMZ it was intercepted by ROK Air Force fighter jets.  The pilot moved his wing left to right which is a signal of defection.  The ROK fighters escorted the plane towards the military airfield at Camp Page.  Once the plane landed at Camp Page negotiations with ROK authorities began with the hijackers to release the crew and passengers.  The hijackers eventually agreed to release the hostages where the two wounded crewmen were immediately taken to a hospital in Seoul for medical attention.  The remaining crew and passengers were put up at a luxury hotel in eastern Seoul.  Shortly after releasing the hostages the hijackers were taken into custody by ROK authorities without incident after requesting political asylum in Taiwan.  The Taiwanese government responded by saying they welcome “anyone aboard who desires to come to our home country.”

After taking the ROK authorities took the hijackers into custody, the Chinese government demanded the plane, passengers, and hijackers all be returned to China.  This is where things were tricky because at the time time South Korea and China did not have official diplomatic relations due to its decades long animosity of Chinese support to North Korea during the Korean War.  South Korea responded to the Chinese demands by saying they would respect the “spirit” of the 1970 Convention of the Hague which outlawed skyjackings without saying what they would do with the six hijackers.

Negotiations

Two days after the hijacking a 33 person Chinese delegation arrived in Seoul led by the CAAC Director Shen Tu. Through negotiations the Chinese and the ROK agreed to the return of the plane, its crew, and all Chinese passengers back to China.  The hijackers however would be subject to Korean law.  At the time it was a good compromise to resolve the dispute.  While negotiations were going on the passengers were warmly received by the Koreans.  During their time in South Korea the Chinese passengers were put on a sightseeing tour, received lavish meals, gifts, and entertainment.  The overall bill came up to over $28,000.  The three Japanese passengers on the plane however did not get to enjoy the lavish treatment, there were immediately returned to Japan the day after the hijacking.

Five days after the incident on May 10, 1983 all the passengers and crew were returned to South Korea and two weeks after the incident the Trident plane was returned as well:

A Chinese passenger plane hijacked to South Korea two weeks ago left for home Wednesday, ending an incident that led to the first official contact between China and South Korea.

The British-made Trident jetliner of China’s state airline, CAAC, left Seoul’s Kimpo International Airport at 10 a.m. with 13 people aboard.

Among the passengers was a radio operator who was one of two crew members wounded May 5 when five men and a woman armed with two pistols hijacked the plane to South Korea in the first hijacking of a jetliner out of China.

The plane’s 96 passengers and eight other crew members returned home May 10.  [UPI]

The crew and passengers when they arrived in China were greeted with the same type of welcome they received in South Korea.  Approximately two hundred weeping well wishers were present for their arrival and presented them with flowers.  They then met with politicians and then attended a reception to welcome them back to China.

Punishment

The return of the plane and passengers officially ended the dispute between the ROK and China, however the South Koreans still needed to prosecute the six hijackers they held in custody.  The hijackers received incredibly light sentences by receiving less than a year in jail before being resettled in Taiwan to a heroes welcome:

In 1983, six Chinese hijacked a plane to South Korea. They were imprisoned for less than a year and resettled in Taiwan, where they received heroes’ welcomes.  [Deseret News]

The punishment for the hijackers is probably what bothers me the most about this story.  They hijacked a plane, put the lives of the 96 passengers at risk, and shot two crew members, but their punishment was receiving less than a year in jail.  The political situation should have been put aside at the time and these hijackers should have been harshly dealt with to prevent future hijackings.

Conclusion

The aftermath of the CAAC Flight 296 hijacking did have some important ramifications.  First of all is that the hijacking showed how initiative within the North Korean military is held back because of the centralized control of the regime.  This incident also proved how North Korea did not have an adequate system in place to contact the top leadership in case of an emergency.  I would not be surprised if initiative in the North Korean military even today is still stifled because of the extreme controls the Kim regime needs to keep in place to control the country.  However, with the modern technology available today it is likely that the North Koreans have quicker access to its top leadership to make decisions if needed.

This hijacking also became a turning point for ROK and Chinese relations.  After the hijacking the two countries who had long been suspicious of each other, began a series of exchanges in sports, industry, and international conference attendance.  These positives events eventually led to South Korea severing relations with Taiwan in 1992 and officially establishing diplomatic ties with China on August 24, 1992.  Since then China has gone on to become South Korea’s #1 trade partner.  It is interesting to think that modern Chinese relations with South Korea began with a botched hijacking.

Tweet of the Day: Lankov on When A Russian Defected in the JSA

Louisiana Man Arrested in South Korea After Allegedly Trying to Defect to North Korea

If this guy really wanted to defect he would have flown to China and walked across the border there where it is much easier than trying to cross the DMZ.  I think it is more likely that this is just some confused or mentally challenged old guy or someone looking for attention:

South Korean police have arrested a U.S. citizen who allegedly entered a restricted border area near North Korea without permission.

A 58-year-old man from Louisiana identified only as “A” was detained Monday after crossing the Civilian Control Line near the heavily fortified frontier, according to South Korea’s defense ministry.

People must have a permit to enter the area, which is just south of the Demilitarized Zone, a 2.2-mile wide, 150-mile-long no man’s land that divides the peninsula. It’s also the site of several tourist attractions.

Military officials initially said they believed the man traveled to South Korea planning to enter the North for political purposes. But investigators, who have turned the case over to local police, later said they had determined he had no communist connections.  [Stars & Stripes]

You can read more at the link.

Secret Service Cancelled President Trump’s Surprise Visit to the DMZ

The fog can get very think around the Imjim River area where Panmunjom is located.  I have been out in the field before north of the Imjim where people got lost because of how thick the fog was and had to yell for people to assist them to get back to their vehicle.  If the fog was that thick I can understand why the Secret Service would not want to land the helicopter.  However, you would think they would have had a Plan B to get the President there by car:

A surprise visit by President Donald Trump to the heavily fortified Korean demilitarized zone was thwarted by bad weather Wednesday — a day after Trump modulated his aggressive rhetoric and urged North Korea to come to the negotiating table.

Trump had been scheduled to make the unannounced early-morning trip to the DMZ amid heightened tensions between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Marine One left Seoul at daybreak and flew most of the way to the DMZ but was forced to turn back just five minutes out due to poor weather conditions. Reporters traveling in a chinook helicopter as part of the president’s envoy saw fog out the helicopters’ windows, and weather reports from near the heavily fortified border showed misting conditions and visibility below one mile. Pilots, officials said, could not see the other helicopters in the air.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president was disappointed he couldn’t make the trip. “I think he’s pretty frustrated,” she told reporters traveling with the president. “It was obviously something he wanted to do.”

Before he left for Asia, a White House official had ruled out the DMZ trip for Trump, claiming the president didn’t have time on his schedule and that DMZ visits have become a little cliché.

But Sanders said the visit had been planned well before Trump’s departure for Asia. The trip was kept secret, Sanders said, for security reasons.

Trump had been scheduled to make the visit with South Korean president Moon Jae-in, who traveled separately and landed about a 20-minute drive from the DMZ. Sanders said the military and the U.S. Secret Service had deemed that landing would not be safe, and Trump deferred to them.  [Stars & Stripes]

You can read more at the link.

Defense Secretary Mattis Makes Visit to DMZ During South Korea Trip

As the below picture shows US Defense Secretary Mattis decided not to wear his old Marine uniform to the DMZ like he previously indicated he would:

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo (R) and U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis issue their statements on North Korea at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone on Oct. 27, 2017. (Joint Press Corps-Yonhap)

Mattis arrived in South Korea earlier in the day. Shortly after landing at Camp Bonifas by Black Hawk chopper, he and Song headed to the OP Ouellette, a hilltop border post, and looked around a bunker underneath the facilities only 25 meters away from the North’s territory.

They were briefed on Panmunjom by U.S. Army Col. Steve Lee, secretary of the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC). They then toured the UNCMAC’s blue-colored conference building which stands on the Military Demarcation Line.

The North’s guards closely monitored the ministers’ activities, with a group of tourists looking down from the Panmungak building in the North.

In their Clark talks, the South’s minister proposed Mattis, a former Marine Corps general, wear a combat uniform for the DMZ trip to send a highly symbolic message to the North. Mattis responded positively to the offer at that time, according to Song.

But Mattis was dressed in a suit as usual after internal consultations apparently in order to avoid possible controversy over a dress code reflecting the U.S. defense secretary’s public availability.

Asked whether President Donald Trump can travel to the DMZ when he visits South Korea early next month, Mattis was guarded.

Following the DMZ tour, he paid a courtesy call on President Moon Jae-in at Cheong Wa Dae and met with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

Should President Trump Tour the DMZ During Visit to Korea?

If the ROK government and the State Department have their way, the answer is no:

It has become the ultimate symbol of American resolve against the threat of North Korea: a visit by the U.S. commander in chief to “freedom’s frontier,” the heavily guarded Demilitarized Zone that has separated the North and South for 64 years.

Wearing bomber-style jackets, surrounded by military officers, peering through binoculars, all but one president since Ronald Reagan has gazed across the barren strip of land at the 38th parallel from an observation post — and been moved to talk tough. In April, Vice President Mike Pence, undertaking the same solemn ritual, said he toured the DMZ so the North Koreans could “see our resolve in my face.”

But as President Donald Trump prepares for a 12-day swing next month through five Asian nations to bolster international pressure on Pyongyang, the administration is divided over whether he should make the pilgrimage, an issue that remains unresolved. Some aides worry a visit could further inflame already heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, while others have expressed concern over Trump’s personal safety, according to people who have spoken to administration officials.

Asian foreign policy veterans of both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations said it would be foolish for Trump not to go. But the White House is facing opposition from South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s administration and the U.S. State Department over fears that a visit would ratchet up Trump’s war of words with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.  [Stars & Stripes]

You can read more at the link, but if people are worried about President Trump saying something provocative about North Korea during his visit does the location really matter?  As far as his personal safety does anyone really think the North Koreans will assassinate President Trump while visiting Panmunjom and start a war that will end the regime?  I guess we will see how this plays out.

Picture of the Day: Peace Foot Statue Unveiled

2nd anniversary of mine explosion

Staff Sgts. Hah Jae-hun (L), who lost both of his legs in a land mine explosion blamed on North Korea during a search operation inside the Demilitarized Zone on Aug. 4, 2015, and Kim Jeong-won, who also lost one of his legs, pose in front of the “Peace Foot” statue during a ceremony to mark the 2nd anniversary of the North’s attack in Paju, north of Seoul, on Aug. 4, 2017. Three land mines were allegedly buried by North Korean soldiers. (Yonhap)