Nov. 23 (UPI) — North Korea is replacing military personnel at the demilitarized zone, following the defection of a soldier and a shooting incident that left the soldier wounded.
A South Korean government source told Yonhap on Thursday the escape has had serious consequences for North Koreans at the Joint Security Area, or JSA, where guards of the two Koreas stare each other down every day.
“After the North Korean soldier defected through Panmunjom, we have identified signs North Korea has replaced all JSA guards,” Yonhap’s source said. “It appears even the higher levels of command could not avoid rebuke.”
North Korea is estimated to retain between 35 and 40 guards in the JSA, according to the report.
North Korean guards, who targeted the escaping soldier with the surname Oh, fired 40 rounds of ammunition, wounding the defector who is currently convalescing at a South Korean hospital.
One armed North Korean soldier was caught on surveillance video momentarily crossing the military demarcation line at the JSA, before hastily retreating back to the North’s side.
Yonhap also reported North Korea has closed the Bridge of No Return, otherwise known as the 72-hour bridge.
Oh drove over the span in a military jeep to make his escape.
North Korea once claimed the bridge was constructed in 72 hours, following the axe incident at Panmunjom in 1976, when North Korean soldiers attacked U.S. military personnel cutting down a tree in the demilitarized zone.
Pyongyang has refrained from provocations for more than two months, but the regime could conduct a nuclear test, or launch its next ballistic missile, by the end of the year or early 2018, Japan’s Sankei Shimbun reported Thursday.
Kim Min-seok, a former South Korean defense ministry spokesman, told the Sankei North Korea may have stayed quiet in order to focus on nuclear warhead production.
Yu Koizumi, a research fellow at Japan’s Institute for Future Engineering, said North Korea could test the Pukguksong missile soon, according to the report.