June 23, 2014
Soldier Captured In South Korea After Killing Comrades

A soldier was captured in South Korea two days after he shot at fellow soldiers, wounding seven and killing five. The 22-year-old South Korean Army sergeant was identified only by his family name, Yim. He fled on Saturday night with his rifle and ammunition.

Kim Min-seok, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul, explained to the New York Times on Monday that the soldier was caught alive with a self-inflicted wound, ending the manhunt. Kim added that the soldier shot himself between his upper chest and left shoulder in an apparent suicide attempt.

Nine battalions of troops were involved in the manhunt for the captured soldier, who was spotted on a hill six miles from his unit Sunday afternoon. The troops built roadblocks and evacuated 540 citizens from three villages in the area the gunman was believed to have fled to.

After he was surrounded Sunday, the soldier wounded an officer and another was wounded in friendly fire. A tense standoff ensued with the soldier's parents taken to the scene by his unit. They used a megaphone to urge their son to surrender and Sergeant Yim asked to speak with his father on Monday morning.

A Defense Ministry official explained to Al Jazeera that the captured soldier was considered "protected and watched," meaning he needed special attention among serviceman. Another official explained that he was an "introvert" and there were earlier concerns about his psychological health.

Yim was designated a grade A protected soldier last April, meaning he had a high risk of suicide attempt or inducing other accidents. He improved to grade B status in November, meaning he was being watched closely by the military but could serve at outposts.

This weekend's episode highlights the challenge South Korea faces in maintaining a largely conscript military. The two Koreas are technically at war after the three-year Korean War was halted with a truce in 1953, rather than a peace treaty. As such, most of the North's and South's armed forces are massed near the border between the two countries.

The heavily fortified stretch of land is lined with tall wire fences and dotted with minefields. Serving on the border as Sergeant Yim was doing is considered one of the most grueling duties in the South Korean military, especially when tensions run high with the North.

The South Korean military screens soldiers for physical and mental fitness before assigning them to guard posts on the border. Yim was ruled unfit last April, but was cleared in November. It isn't clear what the captured soldier's current condition is.

[Image by D-Stanley]