Oh Chong-Song escaped North Korea in a sea of bullets last year.
Oh Chong-Song escaped North Korea in a sea of bullets last year.

The story behind this iconic photo

This blurry satellite image may not look like much.

A parked car, a small empty road, and the shape of a man dressed in black stepping through the trees into a park or forest.


Oh Chong-Song escaped North Korea in a sea of bullets last year.
Oh Chong-Song escaped North Korea in a sea of bullets last year.

But that man is Oh Chong-Song, 25, a North Korean border guard. And in reality, Oh was captured making a bullet-riddled escape from the most reclusive country in the world.

On November 13 last year, Oh fled the totalitarian regime by crossing the demilitarised zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea.

He was shot at five times as he bolted across the border, as North Korean soldiers trailed him.

When he arrived on the other side of the border, South Korean medics transported him to a Seoul hospital, where his body was found to be riddled with huge parasitic worms.

He had seven wounds in his perforated bowel and was said to be rapidly dying of shock.

Exactly one year since he defected, the soldier has given his first interview to the media.

Most North Korean defectors flee due to starvation or fear that they're being hunted by the oppressive regime.

But Oh, a high-ranking, upper-class official and the son of a North Korean major-general, had no such concerns. Why then, did he make such a dangerous journey in plain sight of his fellow soldiers?

Speaking to Japanese-language newspaper Sankei Shimbun, Oh revealed that fear of an ensuing armed conflict with the United States was a key factor.

"I really felt that we would have a war with the United States," Oh told the newspaper.

In November 2017, the relationship between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump was quite different to what we saw at the Singapore summit this year.

In July last year, North Korea claimed it had successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (IBM) for the first time.

Mr Trump responded saying Mr Kim was "obviously a madman who doesn't mind starving or killing his people", and warned the dictator would be "tested like never before".

Oh revealed that he had been drinking in the hours leading up to his escape.

On his way back to his post he broke through a checkpoint and, fearing execution, decided to keep going.

"I feared I could be executed if I went back so I crossed the border," he was quoted as saying, adding he had no regrets about defecting.

The newspaper said Japanese intelligence officials had confirmed Oh's identity.

Despite the high ranking he held in the hermit country, Oh said he felt no allegiance to the North's leadership.

"Inside the North, people, and especially the younger generation, are indifferent to each other, politics, and their leaders, and there is no sense of loyalty."

He was "indifferent" to the rule of Kim Jong-un, the third generation of the Kim family to lead the North, and had no interest in how his friends felt about it.

"Probably 80 per cent of my generation is indifferent and has no loyalty," he was quoted as saying.

"It is natural to have no interest nor loyalty since the hereditary system is taken as a given, regardless of its inability to feed people."



- with AFP