North Korea replaces soldiers, South Korea awards medals after defector's border dash

 

SEOUL, Nov 24 (Reuters) - North Korea has reportedly replaced guards and fortified a section of its border with South Korea where a North Korean soldier defected last week, while South Korean and U.S. soldiers have been decorated for their role in the defector's rescue.

The North Korean defector was shot and wounded by his fellow soldiers as he dashed into the South Korean side of the Joint Security Area (JSA) last week.

The South Korean and U.S. soldiers who led a rescue attempt to drag the gravely injured solider to safety have been awarded medals, according to U.S. Forces Korea.

A group of senior diplomats based in Seoul visited the JSA on Wednesday morning where they saw five North Korean workers digging a deep trench in the area where the soldier had dashed across the line after getting his jeep stuck in a small ditch, a member of the diplomatic delegation told Reuters on Friday.

See photos from the daring escape: 

15 PHOTOS
North Korean soldier's defection across the DMZ
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North Korean soldier's defection across the DMZ
A CCTV footage shows a North Korean soldier crossing the white Military Demarcation Line during a United Nations Command (UNC) briefing on the investigation results of the soldier� defection, at the South Korean defence ministry in Seoul in this still image taken from a Reuters TV video, November 22, 2017. REUTERS/Reuters TV TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
United Nations Command spokesman Colonel Chad G. Carroll shows a surveillance TV footage containing the moment of defection of a North Korean Soldier, during a press briefing at the Defence Ministry in Seoul on November 22, 2017. A North Korean soldier crossed the border into the South in breach of a 1953 armistice agreement as he pursued a defector who was shot last week, the US-led United Nations Command (UNC) said on November 22. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A CCTV footage shows a North Korean soldier crossing the white Military Demarcation Line during a United Nations Command (UNC) briefing on the investigation results of the soldier� defection, at the South Korean defence ministry in Seoul in this still image taken from a Reuters TV video, November 22, 2017. REUTERS/Reuters TV
United Nations Command spokesman Colonel Chad G. Carroll shows a surveillance TV footage containing the moment of defection of a North Korean Soldier, during a press briefing at the Defence Ministry in Seoul on November 22, 2017. A North Korean soldier crossed the border into the South in breach of a 1953 armistice agreement as he pursued a defector who was shot last week, the US-led United Nations Command (UNC) said on November 22. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
REFILE- QUALITY REPEAT A CCTV footage shows the heat signatures of a North Korean soldier (centre L) lying injured on the ground after he was shot while crossing into South Korea, as South Korean soldiers (centre R) approach him; during a United Nations Command (UNC) briefing on the investigation results of a North Korean soldier� defection, at the South Korean defence ministry in Seoul in this still image taken from a Reuters TV video, November 22, 2017. REUTERS/Reuters TV
A surveillance TV footage containing the moment of defection of a North Korean Soldier, is seen during a press briefing by the United Nations Command at the Defence Ministry in Seoul on November 22, 2017. A North Korean soldier crossed the border into the South in breach of a 1953 armistice agreement as he pursued a defector who was shot last week, the US-led United Nations Command (UNC) said on November 22. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A CCTV footage shows a vehicle carrying a North Korean soldier during a United Nations Command (UNC) briefing on the investigation results of the soldier� defection, at the South Korean defence ministry in Seoul in this still image taken from a Reuters TV video, November 22, 2017. REUTERS/Reuters TV
A CCTV footage shows a North Korean soldier running from a vehicle during a United Nations Command (UNC) briefing on the investigation results of the soldier� defection, at the South Korean defence ministry in Seoul in this still image taken from a Reuters TV video, November 22, 2017. REUTERS/Reuters TV
United Nations Command spokesman Colonel Chad G. Carroll shows a surveillance TV footage containing the moment of defection of a North Korean Soldier, during a press briefing at the Defence Ministry in Seoul on November 22, 2017. A North Korean soldier crossed the border into the South in breach of a 1953 armistice agreement as he pursued a defector who was shot last week, the US-led United Nations Command (UNC) said on November 22. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
United Nations Command spokesman Colonel Chad G. Carroll shows a surveillance TV footage containing the moment of defection of a North Korean Soldier, during a press briefing at the Defence Ministry in Seoul on November 22, 2017. A North Korean soldier crossed the border into the South in breach of a 1953 armistice agreement as he pursued a defector who was shot last week, the US-led United Nations Command (UNC) said on November 22. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A CCTV footage shows a North Korean soldier running during a United Nations Command (UNC) briefing on the investigation results of the soldier� defection, at the South Korean defence ministry in Seoul in this still image taken from a Reuters TV video, November 22, 2017. REUTERS/Reuters TV
United Nations Command spokesman Colonel Chad G. Carroll shows a surveillance TV footage containing the moment of defection of a North Korean Soldier, during a press briefing at the Defence Ministry in Seoul on November 22, 2017. A North Korean soldier crossed the border into the South in breach of a 1953 armistice agreement as he pursued a defector who was shot last week, the US-led United Nations Command (UNC) said on November 22. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A North Korean guard post (C) in the border county of Kaepoong is seen from a South Korean observation post in Paju near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas on November 14, 2017. A North Korean soldier involved in an extremely rare and dramatic defection to the South was shot six times by his own side as he drove to the heavily guarded border and ran across under a hail of bullets. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
A surveillance TV footage containing the moment of defection of a North Korean Soldier, is seen during a press briefing by the United Nations Command at the Defence Ministry in Seoul on November 22, 2017. A North Korean soldier crossed the border into the South in breach of a 1953 armistice agreement as he pursued a defector who was shot last week, the US-led United Nations Command (UNC) said on November 22. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
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In a photograph of the visit posted to the Twitter account of acting U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Marc Knapper, North Korean workers could be seen using shovels to dig a deep trench on the North Korean side of the line as soldiers stood guard.

"The workers were being watched very closely by the KPA guards, not just the two in the photo, but others out of shot behind the building," said the diplomat, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.

According to an intelligence official cited by South Korea's Yonhap news agency, the North has replaced the 35-40 soldiers it had guarding the JSA at the time of the incident.

"We're closely monitoring the North Korean military's movement in the JSA," a South Korean defense ministry official told reporters, without confirming the reduction in border guards. "There are limits as to what we can say about things we know."

Reuters was unable to independently verify the reports, although photos taken by Knapper and other diplomats of soldiers guarding the area where workers were digging the trench showed them dressed in slightly different uniforms to the ones usually worn by North Korea's JSA guards.

Two new trees had also been planted in the small space between the ditch and the line with the South, the diplomat told Reuters, in an apparent effort to make it more difficult for would-be defectors to drive across the ground.

Meanwhile, in South Korea, U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said it had awarded its own JSA soldiers - three South Korean and three U.S. soliders - the Army Commendation medal in recognition for their efforts in rescuing the defector.

The medals were personally handed out by USFK Commander Vincent Brooks in a ceremony on Thursday, according to USFK's Facebook page.

The soldiers had been responsible for dragging the wounded North Korean soldier to safety in a daring rescue seen in security camera footage released by the United Nations Command earlier this week.

Pyongyang has not commented on the defection of its soldier, who is now in stable condition despite sustaining multiple injuries sustained from gunshot wounds to his arm and torso.

The young solider, known only by his family name Oh, is a quiet, pleasant man who has nightmares about being returned to the North, his surgeon told Reuters on Thursday.

(Reporting by Christine Kim and James Pearson; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

RELATED: Learn about another North Korean defector: 

9 PHOTOS
North Korean defector Song Byeok
See Gallery
North Korean defector Song Byeok
North Korean defector and painter Song Byeok explains his works during an interview with Reuters at his atelier in Seoul December 23, 2011. Above the ballooning dress of Marilyn Monroe is the face of North Korean despot Kim Jong-il who died a week ago. North Korean defector Song Byeok, who once proudly drew the "Dear Leader" in propaganda paintings and then became a slave labourer in one of the reclusive state's notorious prisons, has now turned to mock a ruler who led his country into famine, isolation and economic ruin. The picture was taken on December 23, 2011. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS OBITUARY SOCIETY)
North Korean defector and painter Song Byeok explains his work titled "Marilyn Monroe", which satirizes North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, at his atelier in Seoul December 23, 2011. Song, who previously worked as a propaganda painter in North Korea, defected to South Korea in 2002 and has since produced satirical paintings of the late North Korean leader and stereotypical imagery of the country. He had a debut exhibition of his paintings in January this year and will be having another exhibition in the U.S. in 2012. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY ENTERTAINMENT)
North Korean defector and painter Song Byeok poses with his works, satirising late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, at his atelier in Seoul December 23, 2011. Song, who previously worked as a propaganda painter in North Korea, defected to South Korea in 2002 and has since produced satirical paintings of the late North Korean leader and stereotypical imagery of the country. He had a debut exhibition of his paintings in January this year and will be having another exhibition in the U.S. in 2012. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon (SOUTH KOREA) - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY ENTERTAINMENT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
North Korean defector and painter Song Byeok poses with his works satirising late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, at his atelier in Seoul December 23, 2011. Song, who previously worked as a propaganda painter in North Korea, defected to South Korea in 2002 and has since produced satirical paintings of the late North Korean leader and stereotypical imagery of the country. He had a debut exhibition of his paintings in January this year and will be having another exhibition in the U.S. in 2012. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon (SOUTH KOREA) - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY ENTERTAINMENT)
North Korean defector and painter Song Byeok uses a brush with his right hand on which a part of his index finger was severed by an injury when he was forced to work in a labour camp in North Korea, at his atelier in Seoul December 23, 2011. Song, who previously worked as a propaganda painter in North Korea, defected to South Korea in 2002 and has since produced satirical paintings of the late North Korean leader and stereotypical imagery of the country. He had a debut exhibition of his paintings in January this year and will be having another exhibition in the U.S. in 2012. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon (SOUTH KOREA) - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY ENTERTAINMENT)
TO GO WITH SKorea-NKorea-refugee-art-painting,FEATURE by Jung Ha-WonPhoto taken on January 24, 2011 shows North Korean defector Song Byeok speaking during an interview with AFP in Seoul. Song Byeok spent seven years churning out hundreds of paintings for Pyongyang's propaganda campaigns. AFP PHOTO / PARK JI-HWAN (Photo credit should read PARK JI-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH SKorea-NKorea-refugee-art-painting,FEATURE by Jung Ha-WonPhoto taken on January 24, 2011 shows North Korean defector Song Byeok posing with his painting after an interview with AFP in Seoul. Song Byeok spent seven years churning out hundreds of paintings for Pyongyang's propaganda campaigns. AFP PHOTO / PARK JI-HWAN (Photo credit should read PARK JI-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH SKorea-NKorea-refugee-art-painting,FEATURE by Jung Ha-WonPhoto taken on January 24, 2011 shows North Korean defector Song Byeok working during an interview with AFP in Seoul. Song Byeok spent seven years churning out hundreds of paintings for Pyongyang's propaganda campaigns. AFP PHOTO / PARK JI-HWAN (Photo credit should read PARK JI-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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