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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Dr says North Korean defector is a 'nice guy' and is enjoying watching CSI 

The defector was repeatedly shot as he fled across the border in the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South on November 13

Oh, the North Korean defector, was shot repeatedly when he fled the country.  EPA/UNITED NATIONS COMMAND
Oh, the North Korean defector, was shot repeatedly when he fled the country. EPA/UNITED NATIONS COMMAND

Millions have watched the moment a North Korean defector was shot crossing the border by his fellow soldiers.

The young man is known only by his family name, Oh. He risked his life when he fled across the border in the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South on November 13. Oh was dragged unconscious through the undergrowth to safety by South Korean troops.

His surgeon is one of the few who has spoken with Oh since the 24-year-old arrived in a South Korean hospital.

He describes him as a quiet, pleasant man who has nightmares about being returned to the North. Building up Oh’s strength with broths and distracting him from his recent trauma with South Korean pop music and American crime series CSI, lead surgeon John Cook Jong Lee is caring for as well as operating on the scared young man.

"He's a pretty nice guy," said Mr Lee, speaking to Reuters in his office at Ajou University Hospital, not far from where the defector lies guarded by South Korean special forces and intelligence officers.

Dr Lee, who has hung a South Korean flag in the soldier's room, said he is avoiding subjects that may disturb his patient.

When Oh woke up in his hospital bed, he cried out in pain, but has since begun eating and can smile, talk, and use his hands, according to this surgeon. The North Korean remains nervous about the presence of the South Korean guards.

Since his arrival in hospital, medical teams have worked to remove the shards of at least four bullets from Oh's body, operated to mend his internal organs, and treat pre-existing conditions including tuberculosis, hepatitis B, and a case of massive intestinal worms, Dr Lee said.

"I've never seen anything like this in my 20 years as a physician," Dr Lee told journalists, explaining that the longest worm removed from the patient's intestines was 27cm (11in) long.

After graduating from secondary school aged 17, Oh joined the North Korean army.

Dr Lee told Reuters that the soldier's hair is styled "like a jarhead, like a US Marine, so I actually joked 'why don't you join the South Korean Marines?' He smiled and said that he would never ever go back to the military system again."

This combination of images made from Nov. 13, 2017, surveillance video released by the United Nations Command shows a North Korean soldier running from a jeep and then shot by North Korean soldiers in Panmunjom, North Korea, before collapsing across the border in South Korea. A North Korean soldier made a desperate dash to freedom in a jeep and then on foot, being shot at least five times as he limped across the border and was rescued by South Korean soldiers, according to dramatic video released by the U.S.-led U.N. command Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. (United Nations Command via AP, File)
Images show how a North Korean soldier ran from a jeep and then was shot by North Korean soldiers in Panmunjom, North Korea, before collapsing across the border in South Korea. United Nations Command via AP

Since Oh's defection, North Korea appeared to have replaced all its security guards on the border, an intelligence source in the South told Yonhap news agency on Thursday.

Dr Lee said that when the defector arrived in an American military helicopter at the hospital - which is equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment and is used to treat VIP visitors such as visiting US presidents - he came with no personal information.

On the flight in, American army flight medics had fought to keep Oh alive, jabbing a large needle into his chest to treat a collapsed lung.

Oh was immediately wheeled into a diagnostic room where doctors confirmed he was suffering from massive internal bleeding.

"We knew then that we didn't have time to hesitate," Dr Lee said, who added that afterwards Oh said he is so thankful for South Koreans for saving his life.

Dr Lee has been playing South Korean music for his patient.

Oh enjoyed K-pop music and watched videos by South Korean girl group Girls' Generation, reported Allkpop blog. It said Oh's favourite song from Girls' Generation is "Gee."

Oh also asked about South Korean singer IU, saying "Is IU the same age as me?", according to Allkpop - which said it appears the soldier knew about IU while he was in North Korea.

Dr Lee has also been playing American films and TV shows for Oh, but has deliberately not exposed him to any news coverage, reported Reuters.

North Korean soldiers dig a trench and plant trees in the area where, on November 13, a defector ran across the border at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing North Korea and South Korea November 22, 2017. Picture taken November 22, 2017. Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION HAS BEEN PROVIDED SEPARATELY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
North Korean soldiers dig a trench and plant trees in the area where, on November 13, a defector ran across the border at the Demilitarized Zone dividing North Korea and South Korea. Reuters

Among the shows, Oh showed a liking for the French-American thriller "Transporter 3," comedy "Bruce Almighty" starring Jim Carrey and Morgan Freeman; and the crime-solving TV series "CSI," Dr Lee said.

Most North Korean defectors undergo security questioning by South Korea's intelligence agency once they arrive in the South. The surgeon said he has asked senior South Korean military officials who are eager to question the soldier to hold off while he recovers.

Following that, Oh is likely to be sent to a resettlement centre for a three-month education on life in the South like all other North Korean defectors.

After defectors are released, central and local governments provide 7 million won (S$8,600) in cash over a year, as well as support in housing, education and job training.

Police officers are assigned to each of the defectors to ensure their security and safety.

Besides the potential for further medical complications, Dr Lee says he is most worried about making sure Oh, who has been suffering with nightmares about being forced back North, recovers psychologically.

"This North Korean guy is not going anywhere," Lee said. "He is staying in South Korea. So we don't need to be hasty."